Establishment and subsequent maintenance of distinct chromatin domains during embryonic stem cell (ESC) differentiation are crucial for lineage specification and cell fate determination. Here we show that the histone chaperone Chromatin Assembly Factor 1 (CAF-1), which is recruited to DNA replication forks through its interaction with proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) for nucleosome assembly, participates in the establishment of H3K27me3-mediated silencing during differentiation. Deletion of CAF-1 p150 subunit impairs the silencing of many genes including Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog as well as the establishment of H3K27me3 at these gene promoters during ESC differentiation. Mutations of PCNA residues involved in recruiting CAF-1 to the chromatin also result in defects in differentiation in vitro and impair early embryonic development as p150 deletion. Together, these results reveal that the CAF-1-PCNA nucleosome assembly pathway plays an important role in the establishment of H3K27me3-mediated silencing during cell fate determination.
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