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Genes & Development

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Genes & Development

The key RNA sequence elements and protein factors necessary for 3' processing of polyadenylated mRNA precursors are well known. Recent studies, however, have significantly reshaped current models for the protein–RNA interactions involved in poly(A) site recognition, painting a picture more complex than previously envisioned and also providing new insights into regulation of this important step in gene expression. Here we review the recent advances in this area and provide a perspective for future studies.

Aneuploidy—the gain or loss of one or more whole chromosome—typically has an adverse impact on organismal fitness, manifest in conditions such as Down syndrome. A central question is whether aneuploid phenotypes are the consequence of copy number changes of a few especially harmful genes that may be present on the extra chromosome or are caused by copy number alterations of many genes that confer no observable phenotype when varied individually. We used the proliferation defect exhibited by budding yeast strains carrying single additional chromosomes (disomes) to distinguish between the "few critical genes" hypothesis and the "mass action of genes" hypothesis. Our results indicate that subtle changes in gene dosage across a chromosome can have significant phenotypic consequences. We conclude that phenotypic thresholds can be crossed by mass action of copy number changes that, on their own, are benign.

The fundamental question of which genes are most important in controlling liver regeneration remains unanswered. We employed a parallel screen to test the impact of 43 selected genes on liver repopulation in the Fah–/– mouse model of hereditary tyrosinemia. We discovered that the transcription factor Foxa3 was a strong promoter of liver regeneration, while tumor necrosis factor receptor 1 (TNFR1) was the most significant suppressor of repopulation among all of the genes tested. Our approach enabled the identification of these factors as important regulators of liver repopulation and potential drug targets for the promotion of liver repopulation.

DNA methylation is tightly regulated throughout mammalian development, and altered DNA methylation patterns are a general hallmark of cancer. The methylcytosine dioxygenase TET2 is frequently mutated in hematological disorders, including acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and has been suggested to protect CG dinucleotide (CpG) islands and promoters from aberrant DNA methylation. In this study, we present a novel Tet2-dependent leukemia mouse model that closely recapitulates gene expression profiles and hallmarks of human AML1-ETO-induced AML. Using this model, we show that the primary effect of Tet2 loss in preleukemic hematopoietic cells is progressive and widespread DNA hypermethylation affecting up to 25% of active enhancer elements. In contrast, CpG island and promoter methylation does not change in a Tet2-dependent manner but increases relative to population doublings. We confirmed this specific enhancer hypermethylation phenotype in human AML patients with TET2 mutations. Analysis of immediate gene expression changes reveals rapid deregulation of a large number of genes implicated in tumorigenesis, including many down-regulated tumor suppressor genes. Hence, we propose that TET2 prevents leukemic transformation by protecting enhancers from aberrant DNA methylation and that it is the combined silencing of several tumor suppressor genes in TET2 mutated hematopoietic cells that contributes to increased stem cell proliferation and leukemogenesis.

DNA methylation patterns are set up in a relatively fixed programmed manner during normal embryonic development and are then stably maintained. Using genome-wide analysis, we discovered a postnatal pathway involving gender-specific demethylation that occurs exclusively in the male liver. This demodification is programmed to take place at tissue-specific enhancer sequences, and our data show that the methylation state at these loci is associated with and appears to play a role in the transcriptional regulation of nearby genes. This process is mediated by the secretion of testosterone at the time of sexual maturity, but the resulting methylation profile is stable and therefore can serve as an epigenetic memory even in the absence of this inducer. These findings add a new dimension to our understanding of the role of DNA methylation in vivo and provide the foundations for deciphering how environment can impact on the epigenetic regulation of genes in general.

MAF1 is a global repressor of RNA polymerase III transcription that regulates the expression of highly abundant noncoding RNAs in response to nutrient availability and cellular stress. Thus, MAF1 function is thought to be important for metabolic economy. Here we show that a whole-body knockout of Maf1 in mice confers resistance to diet-induced obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease by reducing food intake and increasing metabolic inefficiency. Energy expenditure in Maf1–/– mice is increased by several mechanisms. Precursor tRNA synthesis was increased in multiple tissues without significant effects on mature tRNA levels, implying increased turnover in a futile tRNA cycle. Elevated futile cycling of hepatic lipids was also observed. Metabolite profiling of the liver and skeletal muscle revealed elevated levels of many amino acids and spermidine, which links the induction of autophagy in Maf1–/– mice with their extended life span. The increase in spermidine was accompanied by reduced levels of nicotinamide N-methyltransferase, which promotes polyamine synthesis, enables nicotinamide salvage to regenerate NAD+, and is associated with obesity resistance. Consistent with this, NAD+ levels were increased in muscle. The importance of MAF1 for metabolic economy reveals the potential for MAF1 modulators to protect against obesity and its harmful consequences.

We developed a method for genome-wide mapping of DNA excision repair named XR-seq (excision repair sequencing). Human nucleotide excision repair generates two incisions surrounding the site of damage, creating an ~30-mer. In XR-seq, this fragment is isolated and subjected to high-throughput sequencing. We used XR-seq to produce stranded, nucleotide-resolution maps of repair of two UV-induced DNA damages in human cells: cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) and (6-4) pyrimidine–pyrimidone photoproducts [(6-4)PPs]. In wild-type cells, CPD repair was highly associated with transcription, specifically with the template strand. Experiments in cells defective in either transcription-coupled excision repair or general excision repair isolated the contribution of each pathway to the overall repair pattern and showed that transcription-coupled repair of both photoproducts occurs exclusively on the template strand. XR-seq maps capture transcription-coupled repair at sites of divergent gene promoters and bidirectional enhancer RNA (eRNA) production at enhancers. XR-seq data also uncovered the repair characteristics and novel sequence preferences of CPDs and (6-4)PPs. XR-seq and the resulting repair maps will facilitate studies of the effects of genomic location, chromatin context, transcription, and replication on DNA repair in human cells.

The DREAM complex represses cell cycle genes during quiescence through scaffolding MuvB proteins with E2F4/5 and the Rb tumor suppressor paralog p107 or p130. Upon cell cycle entry, MuvB dissociates from p107/p130 and recruits B-Myb and FoxM1 for up-regulating mitotic gene expression. To understand the biochemical mechanisms underpinning DREAM function and regulation, we investigated the structural basis for DREAM assembly. We identified a sequence in the MuvB component LIN52 that binds directly to the pocket domains of p107 and p130 when phosphorylated on the DYRK1A kinase site S28. A crystal structure of the LIN52–p107 complex reveals that LIN52 uses a suboptimal LxSxExL sequence together with the phosphate at nearby S28 to bind the LxCxE cleft of the pocket domain with high affinity. The structure explains the specificity for p107/p130 over Rb in the DREAM complex and how the complex is disrupted by viral oncoproteins. Based on insights from the structure, we addressed how DREAM is disassembled upon cell cycle entry. We found that p130 and B-Myb can both bind the core MuvB complex simultaneously but that cyclin-dependent kinase phosphorylation of p130 weakens its association. Together, our data inform a novel target interface for studying MuvB and p130 function and the design of inhibitors that prevent tumor escape in quiescence.

Plants flower in an appropriate season to allow sufficient vegetative development and position flower development in favorable environments. In Arabidopsis, CONSTANS (CO) and FLAVIN-BINDING KELCH REPEAT F-BOX1 (FKF1) promote flowering by inducing FLOWER LOCUS T (FT) expression in the long-day afternoon. The CO protein is present in the morning but could not activate FT expression due to unknown negative mechanisms, which prevent premature flowering before the day length reaches a threshold. Here, we report that TARGET OF EAT1 (TOE1) and related proteins interact with the activation domain of CO and CO-like (COL) proteins and inhibit CO activity. TOE1 binds to the FT promoter near the CO-binding site, and reducing TOE function results in a morning peak of the FT mRNA. In addition, TOE1 interacts with the LOV domain of FKF1 and likely interferes with the FKF1–CO interaction, resulting in partial degradation of the CO protein in the afternoon to prevent premature flowering.