BACKGROUND: Different histone post-translational modifications (PTMs) fine-tune and integrate different cellular signaling pathways at the chromatin level. ADP-ribose modification of histones by cellular ADP-ribosyltransferases such as ARTD1 (PARP1) is one of the many elements of the histone code. All 5 histone proteins were described to be ADP-ribosylated in vitro and in vivo. However, the crosstalk between ADP-ribosylation and other modifications is little understood. RESULTS: In experiments with isolated histones, it was found that ADP-ribosylation of H3 by ARTD1 prevents H3 methylation by SET7/9. However, poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation (PARylation) of histone H3 surprisingly allowed subsequent methylation of H1 by SET7/9. Histone H1 was thus identified as a new target for SET7/9. The SET7/9 methylation sites in H1.4 were pinpointed to the last lysine residues of the six KAK motifs in the C-terminal domain (K121, K129, K159, K171, K177 and K192). Interestingly, H1 and the known SET7/9 target protein H3 competed with each other for SET7/9-dependent methylation. CONCLUSIONS: The results presented here identify H1.4 as a novel SET7/9 target protein, and document an intricate crosstalk between H3 and H1 methylation and PARylation, thus implying substrate competition as a regulatory mechanism. Thereby, these results underline the role of ADP-ribosylation as an element of the histone code.