Cells in multicellular organisms have distinct identities characterized by their profiles of expressed genes. Cell identities can be stable over a long time and through multiple cellular divisions but are also responsive to extracellular signals. Since the DNA sequence is identical in all cells, a "cellular memory" of expression profiles is achieved by what are defined as epigenetic mechanisms. Two major molecular principles—networks of transcription factors and maintenance of cis-chromatin modifications—have been implicated in maintaining cellular memory. Here we describe recent studies demonstrating that short noncoding RNAs can also provide molecular signals that define epigenetic states of cells. Small RNAs can act independently or cooperate with chromatin modifications to achieve long-lasting effects necessary for cellular memory and transgenerational inheritance.
Despite recent progress, the physiological role of Hippo signaling in mammary gland development and tumorigenesis remains poorly understood. Here we show that the Hippo pathway is functionally dispensable in virgin mammary glands but specifically required during pregnancy. In contrast to many other tissues, hyperactivation of YAP in mammary epithelia does not induce hyperplasia but leads to defects in terminal differentiation. Interestingly, loss of YAP causes no obvious defects in virgin mammary glands but potently suppresses oncogene-induced mammary tumors. The selective requirement for YAP in oncogenic growth highlights the potential of YAP inhibitors as molecular targeted therapies against breast cancers.
As bona fide p53 transcriptional targets, miR-34 microRNAs (miRNAs) exhibit frequent alterations in many human tumor types and elicit multiple p53 downstream effects upon overexpression. Unexpectedly, miR-34 deletion alone fails to impair multiple p53-mediated tumor suppressor effects in mice, possibly due to the considerable redundancy in the p53 pathway. Here, we demonstrate that miR-34a represses HDM4, a potent negative regulator of p53, creating a positive feedback loop acting on p53. In a Kras-induced mouse lung cancer model, miR-34a deficiency alone does not exhibit a strong oncogenic effect. However, miR-34a deficiency strongly promotes tumorigenesis when p53 is haploinsufficient, suggesting that the defective p53–miR-34 feedback loop can enhance oncogenesis in a specific context. The importance of the p53/miR-34/HDM4 feedback loop is further confirmed by an inverse correlation between miR-34 and full-length HDM4 in human lung adenocarcinomas. In addition, human lung adenocarcinomas generate an elevated level of a short HDM4 isoform through alternative polyadenylation. This short HDM4 isoform lacks miR-34-binding sites in the 3' untranslated region (UTR), thereby evading miR-34 regulation to disable the p53-miR-34 positive feedback. Taken together, our results elucidated the intricate cross-talk between p53 and miR-34 miRNAs and revealed an important tumor suppressor effect generated by this positive feedback loop.
The Mre11 complex (Mre11, Rad50, and Nbs1) is a central component of the DNA damage response (DDR), governing both double-strand break repair and DDR signaling. Rad50 contains a highly conserved Zn2+-dependent homodimerization interface, the Rad50 hook domain. Mutations that inactivate the hook domain produce a null phenotype. In this study, we analyzed mutants with reduced hook domain function in an effort to stratify hook-dependent Mre11 complex functions. One of these alleles, Rad5046, conferred reduced Zn2+ affinity and dimerization efficiency. Homozygous Rad5046/46 mutations were lethal in mice. However, in the presence of wild-type Rad50, Rad5046 exerted a dominant gain-of-function phenotype associated with chronic DDR signaling. At the organismal level, Rad50+/46 exhibited hydrocephalus, liver tumorigenesis, and defects in primitive hematopoietic and gametogenic cells. These outcomes were dependent on ATM, as all phenotypes were mitigated in Rad50+/46Atm+/– mice. These data reveal that the murine Rad50 hook domain strongly influences Mre11 complex-dependent DDR signaling, tissue homeostasis, and tumorigenesis.
Many loci maintain parent-of-origin DNA methylation only briefly after fertilization during mammalian development: Whether this form of transient genomic imprinting can impact the early embryonic transcriptome or even have life-long consequences on genome regulation and possibly phenotypes is currently unknown. Here, we report a maternal germline differentially methylated region (DMR) at the mouse Gpr1/Zdbf2 (DBF-type zinc finger-containing protein 2) locus, which controls the paternal-specific expression of long isoforms of Zdbf2 (Liz) in the early embryo. This DMR loses parental specificity by gain of DNA methylation at implantation in the embryo but is maintained in extraembryonic tissues. As a consequence of this transient, tissue-specific maternal imprinting, Liz expression is restricted to the pluripotent embryo, extraembryonic tissues, and pluripotent male germ cells. We found that Liz potentially functions as both Zdbf2-coding RNA and cis-regulatory RNA. Importantly, Liz-mediated events allow a switch from maternal to paternal imprinted DNA methylation and from Liz to canonical Zdbf2 promoter use during embryonic differentiation, which are stably maintained through somatic life and conserved in humans. The Gpr1/Zdbf2 locus lacks classical imprinting histone modifications, but analysis of mutant embryonic stem cells reveals fine-tuned regulation of Zdbf2 dosage through DNA and H3K27 methylation interplay. Together, our work underlines the developmental and evolutionary need to ensure proper Liz/Zdbf2 dosage as a driving force for dynamic genomic imprinting at the Gpr1/Zdbf2 locus.
Mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 and 2 (IDH1/2) have been discovered in several cancer types and cause the neurometabolic syndrome D2-hydroxyglutaric aciduria (D2HGA). The mutant enzymes exhibit neomorphic activity resulting in production of D2-hydroxyglutaric acid (D-2HG). To study the pathophysiological consequences of the accumulation of D-2HG, we generated transgenic mice with conditionally activated IDH2R140Q and IDH2R172K alleles. Global induction of mutant IDH2 expression in adults resulted in dilated cardiomyopathy, white matter abnormalities throughout the central nervous system (CNS), and muscular dystrophy. Embryonic activation of mutant IDH2 resulted in more pronounced phenotypes, including runting, hydrocephalus, and shortened life span, recapitulating the abnormalities observed in D2HGA patients. The diseased hearts exhibited mitochondrial damage and glycogen accumulation with a concordant up-regulation of genes involved in glycogen biosynthesis. Notably, mild cardiac hypertrophy was also observed in nude mice implanted with IDH2R140Q-expressing xenografts, suggesting that 2HG may potentially act in a paracrine fashion. Finally, we show that silencing of IDH2R140Q in mice with an inducible transgene restores heart function by lowering 2HG levels. Together, these findings indicate that inhibitors of mutant IDH2 may be beneficial in the treatment of D2HGA and suggest that 2HG produced by IDH mutant tumors has the potential to provoke a paraneoplastic condition.
Regulated expression of the H19 long noncoding RNA gene has been well characterized as a paradigm for genomic imprinting, but the H19 RNA's biological function remains largely unclear. H19 is abundantly expressed maternally in embryonic tissues but is strongly repressed after birth, and significant transcription persists only in skeletal muscle. Thus, we examined the role of the H19 RNA in skeletal muscle differentiation and regeneration. Knockdown of H19 RNA in myoblast cells and H19 knockout mouse satellite cells decreases differentiation. H19 exon1 encodes two conserved microRNAs, miR-675-3p and miR-675-5p, both of which are induced during skeletal muscle differentiation. The inhibition of myogenesis by H19 depletion during myoblast differentiation is rescued by exogenous expression of miR-675-3p and miR-675-5p. H19-deficient mice display abnormal skeletal muscle regeneration after injury, which is rectified by reintroduction of miR-675-3p and miR-675-5p. miR-675-3p and miR-675-5p function by directly targeting and down-regulating the anti-differentiation Smad transcription factors critical for the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway and the DNA replication initiation factor Cdc6. Therefore, the H19 long noncoding RNA has a critical trans-regulatory function in skeletal muscle differentiation and regeneration that is mediated by the microRNAs encoded within H19.
Eukaryotic initiator tRNA (tRNAi) contains several highly conserved unique sequence features, but their importance in accurate start codon selection was unknown. Here we show that conserved bases throughout tRNAi, from the anticodon stem to acceptor stem, play key roles in ensuring the fidelity of start codon recognition in yeast cells. Substituting the conserved G31:C39 base pair in the anticodon stem with different pairs reduces accuracy (the Sui– [suppressor of initiation codon] phenotype), whereas eliminating base pairing increases accuracy (the Ssu– [suppressor of Sui–] phenotype). The latter defect is fully suppressed by a Sui– substitution of T-loop residue A54. These genetic data are paralleled by opposing effects of Sui– and Ssu– substitutions on the stability of methionylated tRNAi (Met-tRNAi) binding (in the ternary complex [TC] with eIF2-GTP) to reconstituted preinitiation complexes (PICs). Disrupting the C3:G70 base pair in the acceptor stem produces a Sui– phenotype and also reduces the rate of TC binding to 40S subunits in vitro and in vivo. Both defects are suppressed by an Ssu– substitution in eIF1A that stabilizes the open/POUT conformation of the PIC that exists prior to start codon recognition. Our data indicate that these signature sequences of tRNAi regulate accuracy by distinct mechanisms, promoting the open/POUT conformation of the PIC (for C3:G70) or destabilizing the closed/PIN state (for G31:C39 and A54) that is critical for start codon recognition.
Transcription of DNA to RNA by DNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RNAP) is the first step of gene expression and a major regulation point. Bacteriophages hijack their host's transcription machinery and direct it to serve their needs. The gp39 protein encoded by Thermus thermophilus phage P23-45 binds the host's RNAP and inhibits transcription initiation from its major "–10/–35" class promoters. Phage promoters belonging to the minor "extended –10" class are minimally inhibited. We report the crystal structure of the T. thermophilus RNAP holoenzyme complexed with gp39, which explains the mechanism for RNAP promoter specificity switching. gp39 simultaneously binds to the RNAP β-flap domain and the C-terminal domain of the subunit (region 4 of the subunit ), thus relocating the β-flap tip and 4. The ~45 Å displacement of 4 is incompatible with its binding to the –35 promoter consensus element, thus accounting for the inhibition of transcription from –10/–35 class promoters. In contrast, this conformational change is compatible with the recognition of extended –10 class promoters. These results provide the structural bases for the conformational modulation of the host's RNAP promoter specificity to switch gene expression toward supporting phage development for gp39 and, potentially, other phage proteins, such as T4 AsiA.