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Control of mitotic chromosome condensation by the fission yeast transcription factor Zas1

Although the formation of rod-shaped chromosomes is vital for the correct segregation of eukaryotic genomes during cell divisions, the molecular mechanisms that control the chromosome condensation process have remained largely unknown. Here, we identify the C2H2 zinc-finger transcription factor Zas1 as a key regulator of mitotic condensation dynamics in a quantitative live-cell microscopy screen of the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. By binding to specific DNA target sequences in their promoter regions, Zas1 controls expression of the Cnd1 subunit of the condensin protein complex and several other target genes, whose combined misregulation in zas1 mutants results in defects in chromosome condensation and segregation. Genetic and biochemical analysis reveals an evolutionarily conserved transactivation domain motif in Zas1 that is pivotal to its function in gene regulation. Our results suggest that this motif, together with the Zas1 C-terminal helical domain to which it binds, creates a cis/trans switch module for transcriptional regulation of genes that control chromosome condensation.

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