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Genes & Development

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Genes & Development

A subset of eukaryotic transcription factors possesses the remarkable ability to reprogram one type of cell into another. The transcription factors that reprogram cell fate are invariably those that are crucial for the initial cell programming in embryonic development. To elicit cell programming or reprogramming, transcription factors must be able to engage genes that are developmentally silenced and inappropriate for expression in the original cell. Developmentally silenced genes are typically embedded in "closed" chromatin that is covered by nucleosomes and not hypersensitive to nuclease probes such as DNase I. Biochemical and genomic studies have shown that transcription factors with the highest reprogramming activity often have the special ability to engage their target sites on nucleosomal DNA, thus behaving as "pioneer factors" to initiate events in closed chromatin. Other reprogramming factors appear dependent on pioneer factors for engaging nucleosomes and closed chromatin. However, certain genomic domains in which nucleosomes are occluded by higher-order chromatin structures, such as in heterochromatin, are resistant to pioneer factor binding. Understanding the means by which pioneer factors can engage closed chromatin and how heterochromatin can prevent such binding promises to advance our ability to reprogram cell fates at will and is the topic of this review.


PARP inhibitors (PARPis) are being used in patients with BRCA1/2 mutations. However, doubly deficient BRCA1–/–53BP1–/– cells or tumors become resistant to PARPis. Since 53BP1 or its known downstream effectors, PTIP and RIF1 (RAP1-interacting factor 1 homolog), lack enzymatic activities directly implicated in DNA repair, we decided to further explore the 53BP1-dependent pathway. In this study, we uncovered a nuclease, Artemis, as a PTIP-binding protein. Loss of Artemis restores PARPi resistance in BRCA1-deficient cells. Collectively, our data demonstrate that Artemis is the major downstream effector of the 53BP1 pathway, which prevents end resection and promotes nonhomologous end-joining and therefore directly competes with the homologous recombination repair pathway.


The Sox2 transcription factor must be robustly transcribed in embryonic stem (ES) cells to maintain pluripotency. Two gene-proximal enhancers, Sox2 regulatory region 1 (SRR1) and SRR2, display activity in reporter assays, but deleting SRR1 has no effect on pluripotency. We identified and functionally validated the sequences required for Sox2 transcription based on a computational model that predicted transcriptional enhancer elements within 130 kb of Sox2. Our reporter assays revealed three novel enhancers—SRR18, SRR107, and SRR111—that, through the formation of chromatin loops, form a chromatin complex with the Sox2 promoter in ES cells. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 system and F1 ES cells (Mus musculus129 x Mus castaneus), we generated heterozygous deletions of each enhancer region, revealing that only the distal cluster containing SRR107 and SRR111, located >100 kb downstream from Sox2, is required for cis-regulation of Sox2 in ES cells. Furthermore, homozygous deletion of this distal Sox2 control region (SCR) caused significant reduction in Sox2 mRNA and protein levels, loss of ES cell colony morphology, genome-wide changes in gene expression, and impaired neuroectodermal formation upon spontaneous differentiation to embryoid bodies. Together, these data identify a distal control region essential for Sox2 transcription in ES cells.


Cellular senescence is a stable proliferation arrest that suppresses tumorigenesis. Cellular senescence and associated tumor suppression depend on control of chromatin. Histone chaperone HIRA deposits variant histone H3.3 and histone H4 into chromatin in a DNA replication-independent manner. Appropriately for a DNA replication-independent chaperone, HIRA is involved in control of chromatin in nonproliferating senescent cells, although its role is poorly defined. Here, we show that nonproliferating senescent cells express and incorporate histone H3.3 and other canonical core histones into a dynamic chromatin landscape. Expression of canonical histones is linked to alternative mRNA splicing to eliminate signals that confer mRNA instability in nonproliferating cells. Deposition of newly synthesized histones H3.3 and H4 into chromatin of senescent cells depends on HIRA. HIRA and newly deposited H3.3 colocalize at promoters of expressed genes, partially redistributing between proliferating and senescent cells to parallel changes in expression. In senescent cells, but not proliferating cells, promoters of active genes are exceptionally enriched in H4K16ac, and HIRA is required for retention of H4K16ac. HIRA is also required for retention of H4K16ac in vivo and suppression of oncogene-induced neoplasia. These results show that HIRA controls a specialized, dynamic H4K16ac-decorated chromatin landscape in senescent cells and enforces tumor suppression.


The WD40 domain-containing protein WRAP53β (WD40 encoding RNA antisense to p53; also referred to as WDR79/TCAB1) controls trafficking of splicing factors and the telomerase enzyme to Cajal bodies, and its functional loss has been linked to carcinogenesis, premature aging, and neurodegeneration. Here, we identify WRAP53β as an essential regulator of DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair. WRAP53β rapidly localizes to DSBs in an ATM-, H2AX-, and MDC1-dependent manner. We show that WRAP53β targets the E3 ligase RNF8 to DNA lesions by facilitating the interaction between RNF8 and its upstream partner, MDC1, in response to DNA damage. Simultaneous binding of MDC1 and RNF8 to the highly conserved WD40 scaffold domain of WRAP53β facilitates their interaction and accumulation of RNF8 at DSBs. In this manner, WRAP53β controls proper ubiquitylation at DNA damage sites and the downstream assembly of 53BP1, BRCA1, and RAD51. Furthermore, we reveal that knockdown of WRAP53β impairs DSB repair by both homologous recombination (HR) and nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ), causes accumulation of spontaneous DNA breaks, and delays recovery from radiation-induced cell cycle arrest. Our findings establish WRAP53β as a novel regulator of DSB repair by providing a scaffold for DNA repair factors.


Progenitors are early lineage cells that proliferate before the onset of terminal differentiation. Although widespread, the epigenetic mechanisms that control the progenitor state and the onset of differentiation remain elusive. By studying Drosophila ovarian follicle cell progenitors, we identified lysine-specific demethylase 1 (lsd1) and CoRest as differentiation regulators using a GAL4::GFP variegation assay. The follicle cell progenitors in lsd1 or CoRest heterozygotes prematurely lose epigenetic plasticity, undergo the Notch-dependent mitotic-endocycle transition, and stop dividing before a normal number of follicle cells can be produced. Simultaneously reducing the dosage of the histone H3K4 methyltransferase Trithorax reverses these effects, suggesting that an Lsd1/CoRest complex times progenitor differentiation by controlling the stability of H3K4 methylation levels. Individual cells or small clones initially respond to Notch; hence, a critical level of epigenetic stabilization is acquired cell-autonomously and initiates differentiation by making progenitors responsive to pre-existing external signals.


KAT6 histone acetyltransferases (HATs) are highly conserved in eukaryotes and have been shown to play important roles in transcriptional regulation. Here, we demonstrate that the Drosophila KAT6 Enok acetylates histone H3 Lys 23 (H3K23) in vitro and in vivo. Mutants lacking functional Enok exhibited defects in the localization of Oskar (Osk) to the posterior end of the oocyte, resulting in loss of germline formation and abdominal segments in the embryo. RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) analysis revealed that spire (spir) and maelstrom (mael), both required for the posterior localization of Osk in the oocyte, were down-regulated in enok mutants. Chromatin immunoprecipitation showed that Enok is localized to and acetylates H3K23 at the spir and mael genes. Furthermore, Gal4-driven expression of spir in the germline can largely rescue the defective Osk localization in enok mutant ovaries. Our results suggest that the Enok-mediated H3K23 acetylation (H3K23Ac) promotes the expression of spir, providing a specific mechanism linking oocyte polarization to histone modification.


Collective epithelial migration is important throughout embryonic development. The underlying mechanisms are poorly understood but likely involve spatially localized activation of Rho GTPases. We previously reported that Rac1 is essential for generating the protrusive activity that drives the collective migration of anterior visceral endoderm (AVE) cells in the early mouse embryo. To identify potential regulators of Rac1, we first performed an RNAi screen of Rho family exchange factors (guanine nucleotide exchange factor [GEF]) in an in vitro collective epithelial migration assay and identified β-Pix. Genetic deletion of β-Pix in mice disrupts collective AVE migration, while high-resolution live imaging revealed that this is associated with randomly directed protrusive activity. We conclude that β-Pix controls the spatial localization of Rac1 activity to drive collective AVE migration at a critical stage in mouse development.


Although important for gene regulation, most studies of genome organization use either fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) or chromosome conformation capture (3C) methods. FISH directly visualizes the spatial relationship of sequences but is usually applied to a few loci at a time. The frequency at which sequences are ligated together by formaldehyde cross-linking can be measured genome-wide by 3C methods, with higher frequencies thought to reflect shorter distances. FISH and 3C should therefore give the same views of genome organization, but this has not been tested extensively. We investigated the murine HoxD locus with 3C carbon copy (5C) and FISH in different developmental and activity states and in the presence or absence of epigenetic regulators. We identified situations in which the two data sets are concordant but found other conditions under which chromatin topographies extrapolated from 5C or FISH data are not compatible. We suggest that products captured by 3C do not always reflect spatial proximity, with ligation occurring between sequences located hundreds of nanometers apart, influenced by nuclear environment and chromatin composition. We conclude that results obtained at high resolution with either 3C methods or FISH alone must be interpreted with caution and that views about genome organization should be validated by independent methods.