Mouse heterochromatin adopts digital compaction states without showing hallmarks of HP1-driven liquid-liquid phase separation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Fabian Erdel
  • Anne Rademacher
  • Rifka Vlijm
  • Jana Tünnermann
  • Lukas Frank
  • Robin Weinmann
  • Elisabeth Schweigert
  • Johan Hummert
  • Caroline Bauer
  • Sabrina Schumacher
  • Ahmad Al Alwash
  • Christophe Normand
  • Johann Engelhardt
  • Karsten Rippe

Colleges, School and Institutes


The formation of silenced and condensed heterochromatin foci involves enrichment of heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1). HP1 can bridge chromatin segments and form liquid droplets, but the biophysical principles underlying heterochromatin compartmentalization in the cell nucleus are elusive. Here, we assess mechanistically relevant features of pericentric heterochromatin compaction in mouse fibroblasts. We find that (1) HP1 has only a weak capacity to form liquid droplets in living cells; (2) the size, global accessibility, and compaction of heterochromatin foci are independent of HP1; (3) heterochromatin foci lack a separated liquid HP1 pool; and (4) heterochromatin compaction can toggle between two "digital" states depending on the presence of a strong transcriptional activator. These findings indicate that heterochromatin foci resemble collapsed polymer globules that are percolated with the same nucleoplasmic liquid as the surrounding euchromatin, which has implications for our understanding of chromatin compartmentalization and its functional consequences.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-249.e7
Number of pages21
JournalMolecular Cell
Issue number2
Early online date25 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2020


  • Heterochromatin protein 1, chromatin accessibility, chromatin compartmentalization, epigenetic editing, intracellular viscosity, liquid- liquid phase separation, nuclear organization, optodroplets, polarization-dependent fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, polymer collapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas