Mammalian neural stem cells (NSCs) have the capacity to both self-renew and to generate all the neuronal and glial cell-types of the adult nervous system. Global chromatin changes accompany the transition from proliferating NSCs to committed neuronal lineages, but the mechanisms involved have been unclear. Using a proteomics approach, we show that a switch in subunit composition of neural, ATP-dependent SWI/SNF-like chromatin remodeling complexes accompanies this developmental transition. Proliferating neural stem and progenitor cells express complexes in which BAF45a, a Krüppel/PHD domain protein and the actin-related protein BAF53a are quantitatively associated with the SWI2/SNF2-like ATPases, Brg and Brm. As neural progenitors exit the cell cycle, these subunits are replaced by the homologous BAF45b, BAF45c, and BAF53b. BAF45a/53a subunits are necessary and sufficient for neural progenitor proliferation. Preventing the subunit switch impairs neuronal differentiation, indicating that this molecular event is essential for the transition from neural stem/progenitors to postmitotic neurons. More broadly, these studies suggest that SWI/SNF-like complexes in vertebrates achieve biological specificity by combinatorial assembly of their subunits.
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