bims-crepig Biomed News
on Chromatin regulation and epigenetics in cell fate and cancer
Issue of 2020‒11‒15
23 papers selected by
Connor Rogerson
University of Cambridge, MRC Cancer Unit

  1. Dev Cell. 2020 Nov 02. pii: S1534-5807(20)30799-1. [Epub ahead of print]
      Enhancers are essential drivers of cell states, yet the relationship between accessibility, regulatory activity, and in vivo lineage commitment during embryogenesis remains poorly understood. Here, we measure chromatin accessibility in isolated neural and mesodermal lineages across a time course of Drosophila embryogenesis. Promoters, including tissue-specific genes, are often constitutively open, even in contexts where the gene is not expressed. In contrast, the majority of distal elements have dynamic, tissue-specific accessibility. Enhancer priming appears rarely within a lineage, perhaps reflecting the speed of Drosophila embryogenesis. However, many tissue-specific enhancers are accessible in other lineages early on and become progressively closed as embryogenesis proceeds. We demonstrate the usefulness of this tissue- and time-resolved resource to definitively identify single-cell clusters, to uncover predictive motifs, and to identify many regulators of tissue development. For one such predicted neural regulator, l(3)neo38, we generate a loss-of-function mutant and uncover an essential role for neuromuscular junction and brain development.
    Keywords:  DNase-seq; chromatin accessibility; developmental enhancers; embryogenesis; priming; transcription-factor occupancy
  2. Immunity. 2020 Oct 30. pii: S1074-7613(20)30450-7. [Epub ahead of print]
      Establishment of B-lineage-specific gene expression requires the binding of transcription factors to inaccessible chromatin of progenitors. The transcription factor EBF1 can bind genomic regions prior to the detection of chromatin accessibility in a manner dependent on EBF1's C-terminal domain (CTD) and independent of cooperating transcription factors. Here, we studied the mechanism whereby the CTD enables this pioneering function. The CTD of EBF1 was dispensable for initial chromatin targeting but stabilized occupancy via recruitment of the chromatin remodeler Brg1. We found that the CTD harbors a prion-like domain (PLD) with an ability of liquid-liquid phase separation, which was enhanced by interaction of EBF1 with the RNA-binding protein FUS. Brg1 also partitioned into phase-separated FUS condensates and coincided with EBF1 and FUS foci in pro-B cells. Heterologous PLDs conferred pioneering function on EBF1ΔCTD. Thus, the phase separation ability of EBF1 facilitates Brg1-mediated chromatin opening and the transition of naive progenitor chromatin to B-lineage-committed chromatin.
    Keywords:  Brg1; EBF1; EWSR1; FUS; chromatin; phase separation; pioneer transcription factor
  3. Science. 2020 Nov 13. pii: eaba7612. [Epub ahead of print]370(6518):
      The chromatin landscape underlying the specification of human cell types is of fundamental interest. We generated human cell atlases of chromatin accessibility and gene expression in fetal tissues. For chromatin accessibility, we devised a three-level combinatorial indexing assay and applied it to 53 samples representing 15 organs, profiling ~800,000 single cells. We leveraged cell types defined by gene expression to annotate these data and cataloged hundreds of thousands of candidate regulatory elements that exhibit cell type-specific chromatin accessibility. We investigated the properties of lineage-specific transcription factors (such as POU2F1 in neurons), organ-specific specializations of broadly distributed cell types (such as blood and endothelial), and cell type-specific enrichments of complex trait heritability. These data represent a rich resource for the exploration of in vivo human gene regulation in diverse tissues and cell types.
  4. Cell Rep. 2020 Nov 10. pii: S2211-1247(20)31362-0. [Epub ahead of print]33(6): 108373
      Genome-wide profiling of nascent RNA has become a fundamental tool to study transcription regulation. Unlike steady-state RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq), nascent RNA profiling mirrors real-time activity of RNA polymerases and provides an accurate readout of transcriptome-wide variations. Some species of nuclear RNAs (i.e., large intergenic noncoding RNAs [lincRNAs] and eRNAs) have a short half-life and can only be accurately gauged by nascent RNA techniques. Furthermore, nascent RNA-seq detects post-cleavage RNA at termination sites and promoter-associated antisense RNAs, providing insights into RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) dynamics and processivity. Here, we present a run-on assay with 4-thio ribonucleotide (4-S-UTP) labeling, followed by reversible biotinylation and affinity purification via streptavidin. Our protocol allows streamlined sample preparation within less than 3 days. We named the technique fastGRO (fast Global Run-On). We show that fastGRO is highly reproducible and yields a more complete and extensive coverage of nascent RNA than comparable techniques can. Importantly, we demonstrate that fastGRO is scalable and can be performed with as few as 0.5 × 106 cells.
    Keywords:  4-S-UTP; RNA Polymerase II dynamics; biotin; global nuclear run-on; nascent RNA; post-termination RNA; promoter-associated antisense RNA; short-lived transcripts
  5. Comput Struct Biotechnol J. 2020 ;18 2877-2889
      DNA methylation (5mC) and hydroxymethylation (5hmC) are chemical modifications of cytosine bases which play a crucial role in epigenetic gene regulation. However, cost, data complexity and unavailability of comprehensive analytical tools is one of the major challenges in exploring these epigenetic marks. Hydroxymethylation-and Methylation-Sensitive Tag sequencing (HMST-seq) is one of the most cost-effective techniques that enables simultaneous detection of 5mC and 5hmC at single base pair resolution. We present HMST-Seq-Analyzer as a comprehensive and robust method for performing simultaneous differential methylation analysis on 5mC and 5hmC data sets. HMST-Seq-Analyzer can detect Differentially Methylated Regions (DMRs), annotate them, give a visual overview of methylation status and also perform preliminary quality check on the data. In addition to HMST-Seq, our tool can be used on whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS) and reduced representation bisulfite sequencing (RRBS) data sets as well. The tool is written in Python with capacity to process data in parallel and is available at (
    Keywords:  Differential methylation; Hydroxy methylation; Hydroxymethylation-and methylation-sensitive tag sequencing; Methylation analysis; Whole genome bisulfite sequencing
  6. Cell Rep. 2020 Nov 10. pii: S2211-1247(20)31355-3. [Epub ahead of print]33(6): 108366
      Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women and is characterized by the presence of abnormal endometrium at ectopic sites. ARID1A mutations are observed in deeply invasive forms of the disease, often correlating with malignancy. To identify epigenetic dependencies driving invasion, we use an unbiased approach to map chromatin state transitions accompanying ARID1A loss in the endometrium. We show that super-enhancers marked by high H3K27 acetylation are strongly associated with ARID1A binding. ARID1A loss leads to H3K27 hyperacetylation and increased chromatin accessibility and enhancer RNA transcription at super-enhancers, but not typical enhancers, indicating that ARID1A normally prevents super-enhancer hyperactivation. ARID1A co-localizes with P300 at super-enhancers, and genetic or pharmacological inhibition of P300 in ARID1A mutant endometrial epithelia suppresses invasion and induces anoikis through the rescue of super-enhancer hyperacetylation. Among hyperactivated super-enhancers, SERPINE1 (PAI-1) is identified as an essential target gene driving ARID1A mutant endometrial invasion. Broadly, our findings provide rationale for therapeutic strategies targeting super-enhancers in ARID1A mutant endometrium.
    Keywords:  ARID1A; P300; PAI-1; SERPINE1; SWI/SNF; endometriosis; endometrium; invasion; super-enhancer
  7. Nucleic Acids Res. 2020 Nov 10. pii: gkaa1003. [Epub ahead of print]
      LSH, a SNF2 family DNA helicase, is a key regulator of DNA methylation in mammals. How LSH facilitates DNA methylation is not well defined. While previous studies with mouse embryonic stem cells (mESc) and fibroblasts (MEFs) derived from Lsh knockout mice have revealed a role of Lsh in de novo DNA methylation by Dnmt3a/3b, here we report that LSH contributes to DNA methylation in various cell lines primarily by promoting DNA methylation by DNMT1. We show that loss of LSH has a much bigger effect in DNA methylation than loss of DNMT3A and DNMT3B. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that LSH interacts with UHRF1 but not DNMT1 and facilitates UHRF1 chromatin association and UHRF1-catalyzed histone H3 ubiquitination in an ATPase activity-dependent manner, which in turn promotes DNMT1 recruitment to replication fork and DNA methylation. Notably, UHRF1 also enhances LSH association with the replication fork. Thus, our study identifies LSH as an essential factor for DNA methylation by DNMT1 and provides novel insight into how a feed-forward loop between LSH and UHRF1 facilitates DNMT1-mediated maintenance of DNA methylation in chromatin.
  8. Science. 2020 Nov 13. pii: eaba7721. [Epub ahead of print]370(6518):
      The gene expression program underlying the specification of human cell types is of fundamental interest. We generated human cell atlases of gene expression and chromatin accessibility in fetal tissues. For gene expression, we applied three-level combinatorial indexing to >110 samples representing 15 organs, ultimately profiling ~4 million single cells. We leveraged the literature and other atlases to identify and annotate hundreds of cell types and subtypes, both within and across tissues. Our analyses focused on organ-specific specializations of broadly distributed cell types (such as blood, endothelial, and epithelial), sites of fetal erythropoiesis (which notably included the adrenal gland), and integration with mouse developmental atlases (such as conserved specification of blood cells). These data represent a rich resource for the exploration of in vivo human gene expression in diverse tissues and cell types.
  9. Immunity. 2020 Nov 06. pii: S1074-7613(20)30451-9. [Epub ahead of print]
      Regulatory T (Treg) cell identity is defined by the lineage-specifying transcription factor (TF) Foxp3. Here we examined mechanisms of Foxp3 function by leveraging naturally occurring genetic variation in wild-derived inbred mice, which enables the identification of DNA sequence motifs driving epigenetic features. Chromatin accessibility, TF binding, and gene expression patterns in resting and activated subsets of Treg cells, conventional CD4 T cells, and cells expressing a Foxp3 reporter null allele revealed that the majority of Foxp3-dependent changes occurred at sites not bound by Foxp3. Chromatin accessibility of these indirect Foxp3 targets depended on the presence of DNA binding motifs for other TFs, including TCF1. Foxp3 expression correlated with decreased TCF1 and reduced accessibility of TCF1-bound chromatin regions. Deleting one copy of the Tcf7 gene recapitulated Foxp3-dependent negative regulation of chromatin accessibility. Thus, Foxp3 defines Treg cell identity in a largely indirect manner by fine-tuning the activity of other major chromatin remodeling TFs such as TCF1.
  10. Cancer Res. 2020 Nov 09. pii: canres.2379.2020. [Epub ahead of print]
      Overexpression of the MYC oncoprotein is an initiating step in the formation of several cancers. MYC frequently recruits chromatin-modifying complexes to DNA to amplify the expression of cancer-promoting genes including those regulating cell cycle, proliferation, and metabolism, yet the roles of specific modifiers in different cancer types are not well defined. Here we show that GCN5 is an essential coactivator of cell cycle gene expression driven by MYC overexpression and that deletion of Gcn5 delays or abrogates tumorigenesis in the Eμ-Myc mouse model of B cell lymphoma. Our results demonstrate that Gcn5 loss impacts both expression and downstream functions of MYC.
  11. Elife. 2020 Nov 12. pii: e62669. [Epub ahead of print]9
      Sequence variation in regulatory DNA alters gene expression and shapes genetically complex traits. However, the identification of individual, causal regulatory variants is challenging. Here, we used a massively parallel reporter assay to measure the cis-regulatory consequences of 5,832 natural DNA variants in the promoters of 2,503 genes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We identified 451 causal variants, which underlie genetic loci known to affect gene expression. Several promoters harbored multiple causal variants. In five promoters, pairs of variants showed non-additive, epistatic interactions. Causal variants were enriched at conserved nucleotides, tended to have low derived allele frequency, and were depleted from promoters of essential genes, which is consistent with the action of negative selection. Causal variants were also enriched for alterations in transcription factor binding sites. Models integrating these features provided modest, but statistically significant, ability to predict causal variants. This work revealed a complex molecular basis for cis-acting regulatory variation.
    Keywords:  S. cerevisiae; genetics; genomics
  12. Elife. 2020 11 10. pii: e59889. [Epub ahead of print]9
      The organization of chromatin into higher order structures is essential for chromosome segregation, the repair of DNA-damage, and the regulation of gene expression. Using Micro-C XL to detect chromosomal interactions, we observed the pervasive presence of cohesin-dependent loops with defined positions throughout the genome of budding yeast, as seen in mammalian cells. In early S phase, cohesin stably binds to cohesin associated regions (CARs) genome-wide. Subsequently, positioned loops accumulate with CARs at the bases of the loops. Cohesin regulators Wpl1 and Pds5 alter the levels and distribution of cohesin at CARs, changing the pattern of positioned loops. From these observations, we propose that cohesin with loop extrusion activity is stopped by preexisting CAR-bound cohesins, generating positioned loops. The patterns of loops observed in a population of wild-type and mutant cells can be explained by this mechanism, coupled with a heterogeneous residency of cohesin at CARs in individual cells.
    Keywords:  Chromatin loops; Micro-C; Pds5; S. cerevisiae; Wpl1; cohesin; genetics; genomics
  13. Nat Genet. 2020 Nov 09.
      The genetic elements required to tune gene expression are partitioned in active and repressive nuclear condensates. Chromatin compartments include transcriptional clusters whose dynamic establishment and functioning depend on multivalent interactions occurring among transcription factors, cofactors and basal transcriptional machinery. However, how chromatin players contribute to the assembly of transcriptional condensates is poorly understood. By interrogating the effect of KMT2D (also known as MLL4) haploinsufficiency in Kabuki syndrome, we found that mixed lineage leukemia 4 (MLL4) contributes to the assembly of transcriptional condensates through liquid-liquid phase separation. MLL4 loss of function impaired Polycomb-dependent chromatin compartmentalization, altering the nuclear architecture. By releasing the nuclear mechanical stress through inhibition of the mechanosensor ATR, we re-established the mechanosignaling of mesenchymal stem cells and their commitment towards chondrocytes both in vitro and in vivo. This study supports the notion that, in Kabuki syndrome, the haploinsufficiency of MLL4 causes an altered functional partitioning of chromatin, which determines the architecture and mechanical properties of the nucleus.
  14. Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2020 Nov 09.
      Epigenetic reprogramming of the zygote involves dynamic incorporation of histone variant H3.3. However, the genome-wide distribution and dynamics of H3.3 during early development remain unknown. Here, we delineate the H3.3 landscapes in mouse oocytes and early embryos. We unexpectedly identify a non-canonical H3.3 pattern in mature oocytes and zygotes, in which local enrichment of H3.3 at active chromatin is suppressed and H3.3 is relatively evenly distributed across the genome. Interestingly, although the non-canonical H3.3 pattern forms gradually during oogenesis, it quickly switches to a canonical pattern at the two-cell stage in a transcription-independent and replication-dependent manner. We find that incorporation of H3.1/H3.2 mediated by chromatin assembly factor CAF-1 is a key process for the de novo establishment of the canonical pattern. Our data suggest that the presence of the non-canonical pattern and its timely transition toward a canonical pattern support the developmental program of early embryos.
  15. PLoS One. 2020 ;15(11): e0241646
      The proto-oncogene Src is ubiquitously expressed and is involved in cellular differentiation. However, the role of Src in embryonic stem (ES) cell osteogenic differentiation is largely unknown. Using the small molecule inhibitor PP2, c-Src specific siRNAs, and tet-inducible lentiviral vectors overexpressing active c-Src, we delineated an inhibitory role of c-Src in osteogenic differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) and mouse MC3T3-E1s preosteoblasts. Active c-Src was shown to restrict the nuclear residency of Runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx2) and its transcriptional activity with no detectable effect on Runx2 expression level. Furthermore, we showed Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 1 (STAT1) was indispensable to the inhibitory role of c-Src on Runx2 nuclear localization. Specifically, higher levels of active c-Src increased STAT1 half-life by inhibiting its proteasomal degradation, thereby increasing the cytoplasmic abundance of STAT1. More abundant cytoplasmic STAT1 bound and anchored Runx2, which restricted its nucleocytoplasmic shuttling and ultimately reduced Runx2 transcriptional activity. Collectively, this study has defined a new mechanism by which c-Src inhibits the transcriptional regulation of osteogenesis from mESCs in vitro.
  16. Nat Commun. 2020 11 11. 11(1): 5717
      While the yeast Chz1 acts as a specific histone-chaperone for H2A.Z, functions of CHZ-domain proteins in multicellular eukaryotes remain obscure. Here, we report on the functional characterization of OsChz1, a sole CHZ-domain protein identified in rice. OsChz1 interacts with both the canonical H2A-H2B dimer and the variant H2A.Z-H2B dimer. Within crystal structure the C-terminal region of OsChz1 binds H2A-H2B via an acidic region, pointing to a previously unknown recognition mechanism. Knockout of OsChz1 leads to multiple plant developmental defects. At genome-wide level, loss of OsChz1 causes mis-regulations of thousands of genes and broad alterations of nucleosome occupancy as well as reductions of H2A.Z-enrichment. While OsChz1 associates with chromatin regions enriched of repressive histone marks (H3K27me3 and H3K4me2), its loss does not affect the genome landscape of DNA methylation. Taken together, it is emerging that OsChz1 functions as an important H2A/H2A.Z-H2B chaperone in dynamic regulation of chromatin for higher eukaryote development.
  17. Endocrinology. 2020 Nov 11. pii: bqaa210. [Epub ahead of print]
      During spermiogenesis, extensive histone modifications take place in developing haploid spermatids besides morphological alterations of the genetic material to form compact nuclei. Better understanding on the overall transcriptional dynamics and preferences of histones and enzymes involved in histone modifications may provide valuable information to dissect the epigenetic characteristics and unique chromatin status during spermiogenesis. Using single-cell (sc)RNA-Seq, the expression dynamics of histone variants, writers, erasers, and readers of histone acetylation and methylation, as well as histone phosphorylation, ubiquitination, and chaperones were assessed through transcriptome profiling during spermiogenesis. This approach provided an unprecedented panoramic perspective of the involving genes in epigenetic modifier/histone variant expression during spermiogenesis. Results reported here revealed the transcriptional ranks of histones, histone modifications, and their readers during spermiogenesis, emphasizing the unique preferences of epigenetic regulation in spermatids. These findings also highlighted the impact of spermatid metabolic preferences on epigenetic modifications. Despite the observed rising trend on transcription levels of all encoding genes and histone variants, the transcriptome profile of genes in histone modifications and their readers displayed a downward expression trend, suggesting that spermatid nuclei condensation is a progressive process that occurred in tandem with a gradual decrease in overall epigenetic activity during spermiogenesis.
    Keywords:  Cdyl; H3T3p; histone acetyltransferases; histone modifications; testis;  scRNA-seq
  18. Nat Commun. 2020 11 11. 11(1): 5702
      Chromatin modifications orchestrate the dynamic regulation of gene expression during development and in disease. Bulk approaches have characterized the wide repertoire of histone modifications across cell types, detailing their role in shaping cell identity. However, these population-based methods do not capture cell-to-cell heterogeneity of chromatin landscapes, limiting our appreciation of the role of chromatin in dynamic biological processes. Recent technological developments enable the mapping of histone marks at single-cell resolution, opening up perspectives to characterize the heterogeneity of chromatin marks in complex biological systems over time. Yet, existing tools used to analyze bulk histone modifications profiles are not fit for the low coverage and sparsity of single-cell epigenomic datasets. Here, we present ChromSCape, a user-friendly interactive Shiny/R application distributed as a Bioconductor package, that processes single-cell epigenomic data to assist the biological interpretation of chromatin landscapes within cell populations. ChromSCape analyses the distribution of repressive and active histone modifications as well as chromatin accessibility landscapes from single-cell datasets. Using ChromSCape, we deconvolve chromatin landscapes within the tumor micro-environment, identifying distinct H3K27me3 landscapes associated with cell identity and breast tumor subtype.
  19. Genome Res. 2020 Nov 12.
      Transcriptional enhancers commonly work over long genomic distances to precisely regulate spatiotemporal gene expression patterns. Dissecting the promoters physically contacted by these distal regulatory elements is essential for understanding developmental processes as well as the role of disease-associated risk variants. Modern proximity-ligation assays, like HiChIP and ChIA-PET, facilitate the accurate identification of long-range contacts between enhancers and promoters. However, these assays are technically challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, making it difficult to investigate enhancer topologies, especially in uncharacterized cell types. To overcome these shortcomings, we therefore designed LoopPredictor, an ensemble machine learning model, to predict genome topology for cell types which lack long-range contact maps. To enrich for functional enhancer-promoter loops over common structural genomic contacts, we trained LoopPredictor with both H3K27ac and YY1 HiChIP data. Moreover, the integration of several related multi-omics features facilitated identifying and annotating the predicted loops. LoopPredictor is able to efficiently identify cell type-specific enhancer-mediated loops, and promoter-promoter interactions, with a modest feature input requirement. Comparable to experimentally generated H3K27ac HiChIP data, we found that LoopPredictor was able to identify functional enhancer loops. Furthermore, to explore the cross-species prediction capability of LoopPredictor, we fed mouse multi-omics features into a model trained on human data and found that the predicted enhancer loops outputs were highly conserved. LoopPredictor enables the dissection of cell type-specific long-range gene regulation and can accelerate the identification of distal disease-associated risk variants.
  20. iScience. 2020 Nov 20. 23(11): 101694
      An essential event in gene regulation is the binding of a transcription factor (TF) to its target DNA. Models considering the interactions between the TF and the DNA geometry proved to be successful approaches to describe this binding event, while conserving data interpretability. However, a direct characterization of the DNA shape contribution to binding is still missing due to the lack of accurate and large-scale binding affinity data. Here, we use a binding assay we recently established to measure with high sensitivity the binding specificities of 13 Drosophila TFs, including dinucleotide dependencies to capture non-independent amino acid-base interactions. Correlating the binding affinities with all DNA shape features, we find that shape readout is widely used by these factors. A shape readout/TF-DNA complex structure analysis validates our approach while providing biological insights such as positively charged or highly polar amino acids often contact nucleotides that exhibit strong shape readout.
    Keywords:  Biomolecules; Molecular Biology; Molecular Mechanism of Gene Regulation
  21. Sci Adv. 2020 Nov;pii: eaba6784. [Epub ahead of print]6(46):
      Data-driven discovery of cancer driver genes, including tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) and oncogenes (OGs), is imperative for cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Although epigenetic alterations are important for tumor initiation and progression, most known driver genes were identified based on genetic alterations alone. Here, we developed an algorithm, DORGE (Discovery of Oncogenes and tumor suppressoR genes using Genetic and Epigenetic features), to identify TSGs and OGs by integrating comprehensive genetic and epigenetic data. DORGE identified histone modifications as strong predictors for TSGs, and it found missense mutations, super enhancers, and methylation differences as strong predictors for OGs. We extensively validated DORGE-predicted cancer driver genes using independent functional genomics data. We also found that DORGE-predicted dual-functional genes (both TSGs and OGs) are enriched at hubs in protein-protein interaction and drug-gene networks. Overall, our study has deepened the understanding of epigenetic mechanisms in tumorigenesis and revealed previously undetected cancer driver genes.
  22. Nucleic Acids Res. 2020 Nov 12. pii: gkaa1055. [Epub ahead of print]
      Proper cytokine gene expression is essential in development, homeostasis and immune responses. Studies on the transcriptional control of cytokine genes have mostly focused on highly researched transcription factors (TFs) and cytokines, resulting in an incomplete portrait of cytokine gene regulation. Here, we used enhanced yeast one-hybrid (eY1H) assays to derive a comprehensive network comprising 1380 interactions between 265 TFs and 108 cytokine gene promoters. Our eY1H-derived network greatly expands the known repertoire of TF-cytokine gene interactions and the set of TFs known to regulate cytokine genes. We found an enrichment of nuclear receptors and confirmed their role in cytokine regulation in primary macrophages. Additionally, we used the eY1H-derived network as a framework to identify pairs of TFs that can be targeted with commercially-available drugs to synergistically modulate cytokine production. Finally, we integrated the eY1H data with single cell RNA-seq and phenotypic datasets to identify novel TF-cytokine regulatory axes in immune diseases and immune cell lineage development. Overall, the eY1H data provides a rich resource to study cytokine regulation in a variety of physiological and disease contexts.
  23. Nucleic Acids Res. 2020 Nov 10. pii: gkaa1014. [Epub ahead of print]
      Accurate prediction of gene regulatory rules is important towards understanding of cellular processes. Existing computational algorithms devised for bulk transcriptomics typically require a large number of time points to infer gene regulatory networks (GRNs), are applicable for a small number of genes and fail to detect potential causal relationships effectively. Here, we propose a novel approach 'TENET' to reconstruct GRNs from single cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) datasets. Employing transfer entropy (TE) to measure the amount of causal relationships between genes, TENET predicts large-scale gene regulatory cascades/relationships from scRNAseq data. TENET showed better performance than other GRN reconstructors, in identifying key regulators from public datasets. Specifically from scRNAseq, TENET identified key transcriptional factors in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and during direct cardiomyocytes reprogramming, where other predictors failed. We further demonstrate that known target genes have significantly higher TE values, and TENET predicted higher TE genes were more influenced by the perturbation of their regulator. Using TENET, we identified and validated that Nme2 is a culture condition specific stem cell factor. These results indicate that TENET is uniquely capable of identifying key regulators from scRNAseq data.