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Genes & Development

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Genes & Development

Humans have adapted to the chronic hypoxia of high altitude in several locations, and recent genome-wide studies have indicated a genetic basis. In some populations, genetic signatures have been identified in the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway, which orchestrates the transcriptional response to hypoxia. In Tibetans, they have been found in the HIF2A (EPAS1) gene, which encodes for HIF-2α, and the prolyl hydroxylase domain protein 2 (PHD2, also known as EGLN1) gene, which encodes for one of its key regulators, PHD2. High-altitude adaptation may be due to multiple genes that act in concert with one another. Unraveling their mechanism of action can offer new therapeutic approaches toward treating common human diseases characterized by chronic hypoxia.


Signals from the niche play pivotal roles in regulating adult stem cell self-renewal. Previous studies indicated that the steroid hormones can expand mammary stem cells (MaSCs) in vivo. However, the facilitating local niche factors that directly contribute to the MaSC expansion remain unclear. Here we identify R-spondin1 (Rspo1) as a novel hormonal mediator in the mammary gland. Pregnancy and hormonal treatment up-regulate Rspo1 expression. Rspo1 cooperates with another hormonal mediator, Wnt4, to promote MaSC self-renewal through Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Knockdown of Rspo1 and Wnt4 simultaneously abolishes the stem cell reconstitution ability. In culture, hormonal treatment that stimulates the expression of both Rspo1 and Wnt4 can completely substitute for exogenous Wnt proteins, potently expand MaSCs, and maintain their full development potential in transplantation. Our data unveil the intriguing concept that hormones induce a collaborative local niche environment for stem cells.


Despite their origin from the inner cell mass, embryonic stem (ES) cells undergo differentiation to the trophectoderm (TE) lineage by repression of the ES cell master regulator Oct4 or activation of the TE master regulator Caudal-type homeobox 2 (Cdx2). In contrast to the in-depth studies of ES cell self-renewal and pluripotency, few TE-specific regulators have been identified, thereby limiting our understanding of mechanisms underlying the first cell fate decision. Here we show that up-regulation and nuclear entry of AT-rich interactive domain 3a (Arid3a) drives TE-like transcriptional programs in ES cells, maintains trophoblast stem (TS) cell self-renewal, and promotes further trophoblastic differentiation both upstream and independent of Cdx2. Accordingly, Arid3a–/– mouse post-implantation placental development is severely impaired, resulting in early embryonic death. We provide evidence that Arid3a directly activates TE-specific and trophoblast lineage-specific genes while directly repressing pluripotency genes via differential regulation of epigenetic acetylation or deacetylation. Our results identify Arid3a as a critical regulator of TE and placental development through execution of the commitment and differentiation phases of the first cell fate decision.


Recent deep sequencing studies have revealed thousands of circular noncoding RNAs generated from protein-coding genes. These RNAs are produced when the precursor messenger RNA (pre-mRNA) splicing machinery "backsplices" and covalently joins, for example, the two ends of a single exon. However, the mechanism by which the spliceosome selects only certain exons to circularize is largely unknown. Using extensive mutagenesis of expression plasmids, we show that miniature introns containing the splice sites along with short (~30- to 40-nucleotide) inverted repeats, such as Alu elements, are sufficient to allow the intervening exons to circularize in cells. The intronic repeats must base-pair to one another, thereby bringing the splice sites into close proximity to each other. More than simple thermodynamics is clearly at play, however, as not all repeats support circularization, and increasing the stability of the hairpin between the repeats can sometimes inhibit circular RNA biogenesis. The intronic repeats and exonic sequences must collaborate with one another, and a functional 3' end processing signal is required, suggesting that circularization may occur post-transcriptionally. These results suggest detailed and generalizable models that explain how the splicing machinery determines whether to produce a circular noncoding RNA or a linear mRNA.


Polyadenylation of mRNA precursors is mediated by a large multisubunit protein complex. Here we show that RBBP6 (retinoblastoma-binding protein 6), identified initially as an Rb- and p53-binding protein, is a component of this complex and functions in 3' processing in vitro and in vivo. RBBP6 associates with other core factors, and this interaction is mediated by an unusual ubiquitin-like domain, DWNN ("domain with no name"), that is required for 3' processing activity. The DWNN is also expressed, via alternative RNA processing, as a small single-domain protein (isoform 3 [iso3]). Importantly, we show that iso3, known to be down-regulated in several cancers, competes with RBBP6 for binding to the core machinery, thereby inhibiting 3' processing. Genome-wide analyses following RBBP6 knockdown revealed decreased transcript levels, especially of mRNAs with AU-rich 3' untranslated regions (UTRs) such as c-Fos and c-Jun, and increased usage of distal poly(A) sites. Our results implicate RBBP6 and iso3 as novel regulators of 3' processing, especially of RNAs with AU-rich 3' UTRs.


HIV-1 Tat stimulates transcription elongation by recruiting the P-TEFb (positive transcription elongation factor-b) (CycT1:CDK9) C-terminal domain (CTD) kinase to the HIV-1 promoter. Here we show that Tat transactivation also requires the Ssu72 CTD Ser5P (S5P)-specific phosphatase, which mediates transcription termination and intragenic looping at eukaryotic genes. Importantly, HIV-1 Tat interacts directly with Ssu72 and strongly stimulates its CTD phosphatase activity. We found that Ssu72 is essential for Tat:P-TEFb-mediated phosphorylation of the S5P-CTD in vitro. Interestingly, Ssu72 also stimulates nascent HIV-1 transcription in a phosphatase-dependent manner in vivo. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) experiments reveal that Ssu72, like P-TEFb and AFF4, is recruited by Tat to the integrated HIV-1 proviral promoter in TNF-α signaling 2D10 T cells and leaves the elongation complex prior to the termination site. ChIP-seq (ChIP combined with deep sequencing) and GRO-seq (genome-wide nuclear run-on [GRO] combined with deep sequencing) analysis further reveals that Ssu72 predominantly colocalizes with S5P–RNAPII (RNA polymerase II) at promoters in human embryonic stem cells, with a minor peak in the terminator region. A few genes, like NANOG, also have high Ssu72 at the terminator. Ssu72 is not required for transcription at most cellular genes but has a modest effect on cotranscriptional termination. We conclude that Tat alters the cellular function of Ssu72 to stimulate viral gene expression and facilitate the early S5P–S2P transition at the integrated HIV-1 promoter.


Fanconi anemia (FA) is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder caused by defects in any of 15 FA genes responsible for processing DNA interstrand cross-links (ICLs). The ultimate outcome of the FA pathway is resolution of cross-links, which requires structure-selective nucleases. FA-associated nuclease 1 (FAN1) is believed to be recruited to lesions by a monoubiquitinated FANCI–FANCD2 (ID) complex and participates in ICL repair. Here, we determined the crystal structure of Pseudomonas aeruginosa FAN1 (PaFAN1) lacking the UBZ (ubiquitin-binding zinc) domain in complex with 5' flap DNA. All four domains of the right-hand-shaped PaFAN1 are involved in DNA recognition, with each domain playing a specific role in bending DNA at the nick. The six-helix bundle that binds the junction connects to the catalytic viral replication and repair (VRR) nuclease (VRR nuc) domain, enabling FAN1 to incise the scissile phosphate a few bases distant from the junction. The six-helix bundle also inhibits the cleavage of intact Holliday junctions. PaFAN1 shares several conserved features with other flap structure-selective nucleases despite structural differences. A clamping motion of the domains around the wedge helix, which acts as a pivot, facilitates nucleolytic cleavage. The PaFAN1 structure provides insights into how archaeal Holliday junction resolvases evolved to incise 5' flap substrates and how FAN1 integrates with the FA complex to participate in ICL repair.


Eukaryotic cells license each DNA replication origin during G1 phase by assembling a prereplication complex that contains a Mcm2–7 (minichromosome maintenance proteins 2–7) double hexamer. During S phase, each Mcm2–7 hexamer forms the core of a replicative DNA helicase. However, the mechanisms of origin licensing and helicase activation are poorly understood. The helicase loaders ORC–Cdc6 function to recruit a single Cdt1–Mcm2–7 heptamer to replication origins prior to Cdt1 release and ORC–Cdc6–Mcm2–7 complex formation, but how the second Mcm2–7 hexamer is recruited to promote double-hexamer formation is not well understood. Here, structural evidence for intermediates consisting of an ORC–Cdc6–Mcm2–7 complex and an ORC–Cdc6–Mcm2–7–Mcm2–7 complex are reported, which together provide new insights into DNA licensing. Detailed structural analysis of the loaded Mcm2–7 double-hexamer complex demonstrates that the two hexamers are interlocked and misaligned along the DNA axis and lack ATP hydrolysis activity that is essential for DNA helicase activity. Moreover, we show that the head-to-head juxtaposition of the Mcm2–7 double hexamer generates a new protein interaction surface that creates a multisubunit-binding site for an S-phase protein kinase that is known to activate DNA replication. The data suggest how the double hexamer is assembled and how helicase activity is regulated during DNA licensing, with implications for cell cycle control of DNA replication and genome stability.


In mammalian DNA, cytosine occurs in several chemical forms, including unmodified cytosine (C), 5-methylcytosine (5mC), 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), 5-formylcytosine (5fC), and 5-carboxylcytosine (5caC). 5mC is a major epigenetic signal that acts to regulate gene expression. 5hmC, 5fC, and 5caC are oxidized derivatives that might also act as distinct epigenetic signals. We investigated the response of the zinc finger DNA-binding domains of transcription factors early growth response protein 1 (Egr1) and Wilms tumor protein 1 (WT1) to different forms of modified cytosine within their recognition sequence, 5'-GCG(T/G)GGGCG-3'. Both displayed high affinity for the sequence when C or 5mC was present and much reduced affinity when 5hmC or 5fC was present, indicating that they differentiate primarily oxidized C from unoxidized C, rather than methylated C from unmethylated C. 5caC affected the two proteins differently, abolishing binding by Egr1 but not by WT1. We ascribe this difference to electrostatic interactions in the binding sites. In Egr1, a negatively charged glutamate conflicts with the negatively charged carboxylate of 5caC, whereas the corresponding glutamine of WT1 interacts with this group favorably. Our analyses shows that zinc finger proteins (and their splice variants) can respond in modulated ways to alternative modifications within their binding sequence.


The Swi/Snf chromatin remodeling complex functions to alter nucleosome positions by either sliding nucleosomes on DNA or the eviction of histones. The presence of histone acetylation and activator-dependent recruitment and retention of Swi/Snf is important for its efficient function. It is not understood, however, why such mechanisms are required to enhance Swi/Snf activity on nucleosomes. Snf2, the catalytic subunit of the Swi/Snf remodeling complex, has been shown to be a target of the Gcn5 acetyltransferase. Our study found that acetylation of Snf2 regulates both recruitment and release of Swi/Snf from stress-responsive genes. Also, the intramolecular interaction of the Snf2 bromodomain with the acetylated lysine residues on Snf2 negatively regulates binding and remodeling of acetylated nucleosomes by Swi/Snf. Interestingly, the presence of transcription activators mitigates the effects of the reduced affinity of acetylated Snf2 for acetylated nucleosomes. Supporting our in vitro results, we found that activator-bound genes regulating metabolic processes showed greater retention of the Swi/Snf complex even when Snf2 was acetylated. Our studies demonstrate that competing effects of (1) Swi/Snf retention by activators or high levels of histone acetylation and (2) Snf2 acetylation-mediated release regulate dynamics of Swi/Snf occupancy at target genes.