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Genes & Development

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Genes & Development

The primary purpose of telomeres is to protect chromosome ends from erosion during cell division cycles. New observations suggest an additional function for telomeres, namely in gene silencing via formation of long-range chromatin interactions.


Production of multiple functional RNAs from a single primary transcript is an extremely efficient use of genetic information, although it complicates the ability of the cell to independently regulate the production of each RNA. For the case of small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) encoded within introns of mRNA genes, Lykke-Andersen and colleagues (pp. 2498–2517) demonstrated that alternative splicing and the SMG6 endonuclease of the nonsense-mediated RNA decay pathway are key regulators that control which RNAs accumulate.


Faithful DNA repair is essential to avoid chromosomal rearrangements and promote genome integrity. Nuclear organization has emerged as a key parameter in the formation of chromosomal translocations, yet little is known as to whether DNA repair can efficiently occur throughout the nucleus and whether it is affected by the location of the lesion. Here, we induce DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) at different nuclear compartments and follow their fate. We demonstrate that DSBs induced at the nuclear membrane (but not at nuclear pores or nuclear interior) fail to rapidly activate the DNA damage response (DDR) and repair by homologous recombination (HR). Real-time and superresolution imaging reveal that DNA DSBs within lamina-associated domains do not migrate to more permissive environments for HR, like the nuclear pores or the nuclear interior, but instead are repaired in situ by alternative end-joining. Our results are consistent with a model in which nuclear position dictates the choice of DNA repair pathway, thus revealing a new level of regulation in DSB repair controlled by spatial organization of DNA within the nucleus.


While global chromatin conformation studies are emerging, very little is known about the chromatin conformation of human telomeres. Most studies have focused on the role of telomeres as a tumor suppressor mechanism. Here we describe how telomere length regulates gene expression long before telomeres become short enough to produce a DNA damage response (senescence). We directly mapped the interactions adjacent to specific telomere ends using a Hi-C (chromosome capture followed by high-throughput sequencing) technique modified to enrich for specific genomic regions. We demonstrate that chromosome looping brings the telomere close to genes up to 10 Mb away from the telomere when telomeres are long and that the same loci become separated when telomeres are short. Furthermore, expression array analysis reveals that many loci, including noncoding RNAs, may be regulated by telomere length. We report three genes (ISG15 [interferon-stimulated gene 15 kd], DSP [Desmoplakin], and C1S [complement component 1s subcomplement]) located at three different subtelomeric ends (1p, 6p, and 12p) whose expressions are altered with telomere length. Additionally, we confirmed by in situ analysis (3D-FISH [three-dimensional fluorescence in situ hybridization]) that chromosomal looping occurs between the loci of those genes and their respective telomere ends. We term this process TPE-OLD for "telomere position effect over long distances." Our results suggest a potential novel mechanism for how telomere shortening could contribute to aging and disease initiation/progression in human cells long before the induction of a critical DNA damage response.


The semiconservative replication of telomeres is facilitated by the shelterin component TRF1. Without TRF1, replication forks stall in the telomeric repeats, leading to ATR kinase signaling upon S-phase progression, fragile metaphase telomeres that resemble the common fragile sites (CFSs), and the association of sister telomeres. In contrast, TRF1 does not contribute significantly to the end protection functions of shelterin. We addressed the mechanism of TRF1 action using mouse conditional knockouts of BLM, TRF1, TPP1, and Rap1 in combination with expression of TRF1 and TIN2 mutants. The data establish that TRF1 binds BLM to facilitate lagging but not leading strand telomeric DNA synthesis. As the template for lagging strand telomeric DNA synthesis is the TTAGGG repeat strand, TRF1-bound BLM is likely required to remove secondary structures formed by these sequences. In addition, the data establish that TRF1 deploys TIN2 and the TPP1/POT1 heterodimers in shelterin to prevent ATR during telomere replication and repress the accompanying sister telomere associations. Thus, TRF1 uses two distinct mechanisms to promote replication of telomeric DNA and circumvent the consequences of replication stress. These data are relevant to the expression of CFSs and provide insights into TIN2, which is compromised in dyskeratosis congenita (DC) and related disorders.


AT-rich DNA is concentrated in the nucleosome-free regions (NFRs) associated with transcription start sites of most genes. We tested the hypothesis that AT-rich DNA engenders NFR formation by virtue of its rigidity and consequent exclusion of nucleosomes. We found that the AT-rich sequences present in many NFRs have little effect on the stability of nucleosomes. Rather, these sequences facilitate the removal of nucleosomes by the RSC chromatin remodeling complex. RSC activity is stimulated by AT-rich sequences in nucleosomes and inhibited by competition with AT-rich DNA. RSC may remove NFR nucleosomes without effect on adjacent ORF nucleosomes. Our findings suggest that many NFRs are formed and maintained by an active mechanism involving the ATP-dependent removal of nucleosomes rather than a passive mechanism due to the intrinsic instability of nucleosomes on AT-rich DNA sequences.


Eukaryotic RNAs with premature termination codons (PTCs) are eliminated by nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). While human nonsense RNA degradation can be initiated either by an endonucleolytic cleavage event near the PTC or through decapping, the individual contribution of these activities on endogenous substrates has remained unresolved. Here we used concurrent transcriptome-wide identification of NMD substrates and their 5'–3' decay intermediates to establish that SMG6-catalyzed endonucleolysis widely initiates the degradation of human nonsense RNAs, whereas decapping is used to a lesser extent. We also show that a large proportion of genes hosting snoRNAs in their introns produce considerable amounts of NMD-sensitive splice variants, indicating that these RNAs are merely by-products of a primary snoRNA production process. Additionally, transcripts from genes encoding multiple snoRNAs often yield alternative transcript isoforms that allow for differential expression of individual coencoded snoRNAs. Based on our findings, we hypothesize that snoRNA host genes need to be highly transcribed to accommodate high levels of snoRNA production and that the expression of individual snoRNAs and their cognate spliced RNA can be uncoupled via alternative splicing and NMD.


The pairing of 5' and 3' splice sites across an intron is a critical step in spliceosome formation and its regulation. Interactions that bring the two splice sites together during spliceosome assembly must occur with a high degree of specificity and fidelity to allow expression of functional mRNAs and make particular alternative splicing choices. Here, we report a new interaction between stem–loop 4 (SL4) of the U1 snRNA, which recognizes the 5' splice site, and a component of the U2 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein particle (snRNP) complex, which assembles across the intron at the 3' splice site. Using a U1 snRNP complementation assay, we found that SL4 is essential for splicing in vivo. The addition of free U1-SL4 to a splicing reaction in vitro inhibits splicing and blocks complex assembly prior to formation of the prespliceosomal A complex, indicating a requirement for a SL4 contact in spliceosome assembly. To characterize the interactions of this RNA structure, we used a combination of stable isotope labeling by amino acids in cell culture (SILAC), biotin/Neutravidin affinity pull-down, and mass spectrometry. We show that U1-SL4 interacts with the SF3A1 protein of the U2 snRNP. We found that this interaction between the U1 snRNA and SF3A1 occurs within prespliceosomal complexes assembled on the pre-mRNA. Thus, SL4 of the U1 snRNA is important for splicing, and its interaction with SF3A1 mediates contact between the 5' and 3' splice site complexes within the assembling spliceosome.


Previously, we identified miR-125b as a key regulator of the undifferentiated state of hair follicle stem cells. Here, we show that in both mice and humans, miR-125b is abundantly expressed, particularly at early stages of malignant progression to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most prevalent cancer worldwide. Moreover, when elevated in normal murine epidermis, miR-125b promotes tumor initiation and contributes to malignant progression. We further show that miR-125b can confer "oncomiR addiction" in early stage malignant progenitors by delaying their differentiation and favoring an SCC cancer stem cell (CSC)-like transcriptional program. To understand how, we systematically identified and validated miR125b targets that are specifically associated with tumors that are dependent on miR-125b. Through molecular and genetic analysis of these targets, we uncovered new insights underlying miR-125b’s oncogenic function. Specifically, we show that, on the one hand, mir-125b directly represses stress-responsive MAP kinase genes and associated signaling. On the other hand, it indirectly prolongs activated (phosphorylated) EGFR signaling by repressing Vps4b (vacuolar protein-sorting 4 homolog B), encoding a protein implicated in negatively regulating the endosomal sorting complexes that are necessary for the recycling of active EGFR. Together, these findings illuminate miR-125b as an important microRNA regulator that is shared between normal skin progenitors and their early malignant counterparts.


Control of Gli function by Suppressor of Fused (Sufu), a major negative regulator, is a key step in mammalian Hedgehog (Hh) signaling, but how this is achieved in the nucleus is unknown. We found that Hh signaling results in reduced Sufu protein levels and Sufu dissociation from Gli proteins in the nucleus, highlighting critical functions of Sufu in the nucleus. Through a proteomic approach, we identified several Sufu-interacting proteins, including p66β (a member of the NuRD [nucleosome remodeling and histone deacetylase] repressor complex) and Mycbp (a Myc-binding protein). p66β negatively and Mycbp positively regulate Hh signaling in cell-based assays and zebrafish. They function downstream from the membrane receptors, Patched and Smoothened, and the primary cilium. Sufu, p66β, Mycbp, and Gli are also detected on the promoters of Hh targets in a dynamic manner. Our results support a new model of Hh signaling in the nucleus. Sufu recruits p66β to block Gli-mediated Hh target gene expression. Meanwhile, Mycbp forms a complex with Gli and Sufu without Hh stimulation but remains inactive. Hh pathway activation leads to dissociation of Sufu/p66β from Gli, enabling Mycbp to promote Gli protein activity and Hh target gene expression. These studies provide novel insight into how Sufu controls Hh signaling in the nucleus.