bims-crepig Biomed News
on Chromatin regulation and epigenetics in cell fate and cancer
Issue of 2021‒03‒28
thirty papers selected by
Connor Rogerson
University of Cambridge, MRC Cancer Unit

  1. Elife. 2021 Mar 26. pii: e65381. [Epub ahead of print]10
      Enhancer activity drives cell differentiation and cell fate determination, but it remains unclear how enhancers cooperate during these processes. Here we investigate enhancer cooperation during transdifferentiation of human leukemia B-cells to macrophages. Putative enhancers are established by binding of the pioneer factor C/EBPα followed by chromatin opening and enhancer RNA (eRNA) synthesis from H3K4-monomethylated regions. Using eRNA synthesis as a proxy for enhancer activity, we find that most putative enhancers cooperate in an additive way to regulate transcription of assigned target genes. However, transcription from 136 target genes depends exponentially on the summed activity of its putative paired enhancers, indicating that these enhancers cooperate synergistically. The target genes are cell type-specific, suggesting that enhancer synergy can contribute to cell fate determination. Enhancer synergy appears to depend on cell type-specific transcription factors, and such interacting enhancers are not predicted from occupancy or accessibility data that are used to detect superenhancers.
    Keywords:  c/ebpa; computational biology; enhancer cooperation; genetics; genomics; human; systems biology; transcriptional regulation; transdifferentiation
  2. Nucleic Acids Res. 2021 Mar 22. pii: gkab185. [Epub ahead of print]
      The glucocorticoid (GR) and androgen (AR) receptors execute unique functions in vivo, yet have nearly identical DNA binding specificities. To identify mechanisms that facilitate functional diversification among these transcription factor paralogs, we studied them in an equivalent cellular context. Analysis of chromatin and sequence suggest that divergent binding, and corresponding gene regulation, are driven by different abilities of AR and GR to interact with relatively inaccessible chromatin. Divergent genomic binding patterns can also be the result of subtle differences in DNA binding preference between AR and GR. Furthermore, the sequence composition of large regions (>10 kb) surrounding selectively occupied binding sites differs significantly, indicating a role for the sequence environment in guiding AR and GR to distinct binding sites. The comparison of binding sites that are shared shows that the specificity paradox can also be resolved by differences in the events that occur downstream of receptor binding. Specifically, shared binding sites display receptor-specific enhancer activity, cofactor recruitment and changes in histone modifications. Genomic deletion of shared binding sites demonstrates their contribution to directing receptor-specific gene regulation. Together, these data suggest that differences in genomic occupancy as well as divergence in the events that occur downstream of receptor binding direct functional diversification among transcription factor paralogs.
  3. Nucleic Acids Res. 2021 Mar 25. pii: gkab167. [Epub ahead of print]
      Epigenetic regulation of cell and tissue function requires the coordinated action of transcription factors. However, their combinatorial activities during regeneration remain largely unexplored. Here, we discover an unexpected interaction between the cytoprotective transcription factor NRF2 and p63- a key player in epithelial morphogenesis. Chromatin immunoprecipitation combined with sequencing and reporter assays identifies enhancers and promoters that are simultaneously activated by NRF2 and p63 in human keratinocytes. Modeling of p63 and NRF2 binding to nucleosomal DNA suggests their chromatin-assisted interaction. Pharmacological and genetic activation of NRF2 increases NRF2-p63 binding to enhancers and promotes keratinocyte proliferation, which involves the common NRF2-p63 target cyclin-dependent kinase 12. These results unravel a collaborative function of NRF2 and p63 in the control of epidermal renewal and suggest their combined activation as a strategy to promote repair of human skin and other stratified epithelia.
  4. Development. 2021 Mar 25. pii: dev.198838. [Epub ahead of print]
      Stem cells self-renew or give rise to transit-amplifying cells (TACs) that differentiate into specific functional cell types. The fate determination of stem cells to TACs and their transition to fully differentiated progeny are precisely regulated to maintain tissue homeostasis. Arid1a, a core component of the switch/sucrose nonfermentable (SWI/SNF) complex, performs epigenetic regulation of stage- and tissue-specific genes that is indispensable for stem cell homeostasis and differentiation. However, the functional mechanism of Arid1a in the fate commitment of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and their progeny is not clear. Using the continuously growing adult mouse incisor model, we show that Arid1a maintains tissue homeostasis through limiting proliferation, promoting cell cycle exit and differentiation of TACs by inhibiting the Aurka-Cdk1 axis. Loss of Arid1a overactivates the Aurka-Cdk1 axis, leading to expansion of the mitotic TAC population but compromising their differentiation ability. Furthermore, the defective homeostasis after loss of Arid1a ultimately leads to reduction of the MSC population. These findings reveal the functional significance of Arid1a in regulating the fate of TACs and their interaction with MSCs to maintain tissue homeostasis.
    Keywords:  Arid1a; Cell cycle; Mesenchymal stem cells; Mitosis; Transit-amplifying cells
  5. Cell Rep. 2021 Mar 23. pii: S2211-1247(21)00202-3. [Epub ahead of print]34(12): 108888
      During development, progenitors often differentiate many cell generations after receiving signals. These delays must be robust yet tunable for precise population size control. Polycomb repressive mechanisms, involving histone H3 lysine-27 trimethylation (H3K27me3), restrain the expression of lineage-specifying genes in progenitors and may delay their activation and ensuing differentiation. Here, we elucidate an epigenetic switch controlling the T cell commitment gene Bcl11b that holds its locus in a heritable inactive state for multiple cell generations before activation. Integrating experiments and modeling, we identify a mechanism where H3K27me3 levels at Bcl11b, regulated by methyltransferase and demethylase activities, set the time delay at which the locus switches from a compacted, silent state to an extended, active state. This activation delay robustly spans many cell generations, is tunable by chromatin modifiers and transcription factors, and is independent of cell division. With their regulatory flexibility, such timed epigenetic switches may broadly control timing in development.
    Keywords:  T cell development; chromatin compaction; epigenetic switch; gene regulation; post-translational histone modifications; stochasticity; timing control; tunability
  6. PLoS Genet. 2021 Mar;17(3): e1009435
      The cohesin complex spatially organizes interphase chromatin by bringing distal genomic loci into close physical proximity, looping out the intervening DNA. Mutation of cohesin complex subunits is observed in cancer and developmental disorders, but the mechanisms through which these mutations may contribute to disease remain poorly understood. Here, we investigate a recurrent missense mutation to the hinge domain of the cohesin subunit SMC1A, observed in acute myeloid leukemia. Engineering this mutation into murine embryonic stem cells caused widespread changes in gene expression, including dysregulation of the pluripotency gene expression program. This mutation reduced cohesin levels at promoters and enhancers, decreased DNA loops and interactions across short genomic distances, and weakened insulation at CTCF-mediated DNA loops. These findings provide insight into how altered cohesin function contributes to disease and identify a requirement for the cohesin hinge domain in three-dimensional chromatin structure.
  7. Sci Rep. 2021 Mar 22. 11(1): 6518
      The transcription factor vitamin D receptor (VDR) is the high affinity nuclear target of the biologically active form of vitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3). In order to identify pure genomic transcriptional effects of 1,25(OH)2D3, we used VDR cistrome, transcriptome and open chromatin data, obtained from the human monocytic cell line THP-1, for a novel hierarchical analysis applying three bioinformatics approaches. We predicted 75.6% of all early 1,25(OH)2D3-responding (2.5 or 4 h) and 57.4% of the late differentially expressed genes (24 h) to be primary VDR target genes. VDR knockout led to a complete loss of 1,25(OH)2D3-induced genome-wide gene regulation. Thus, there was no indication of any VDR-independent non-genomic actions of 1,25(OH)2D3 modulating its transcriptional response. Among the predicted primary VDR target genes, 47 were coding for transcription factors and thus may mediate secondary 1,25(OH)2D3 responses. CEBPA and ETS1 ChIP-seq data and RNA-seq following CEBPA knockdown were used to validate the predicted regulation of secondary vitamin D target genes by both transcription factors. In conclusion, a directional network containing 47 partly novel primary VDR target transcription factors describes secondary responses in a highly complex vitamin D signaling cascade. The central transcription factor VDR is indispensable for all transcriptome-wide effects of the nuclear hormone.
  8. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2021 Mar 25.
      Genomic DNA is folded into loops and topologically associating domains (TADs), which serve important structural and regulatory roles. It has been proposed that these genomic structures are formed by a loop extrusion process, which is mediated by structural maintenance of chromosomes (SMC) protein complexes. Recent single-molecule studies have shown that the SMC complexes condensin and cohesin are indeed able to extrude DNA into loops. In this Review, we discuss how the loop extrusion hypothesis can explain key features of genome architecture; cellular functions of loop extrusion, such as separation of replicated DNA molecules, facilitation of enhancer-promoter interactions and immunoglobulin gene recombination; and what is known about the mechanism of loop extrusion and its regulation, for example, by chromatin boundaries that depend on the DNA binding protein CTCF. We also discuss how the loop extrusion hypothesis has led to a paradigm shift in our understanding of both genome architecture and the functions of SMC complexes.
  9. Cell Rep. 2021 Mar 23. pii: S2211-1247(21)00212-6. [Epub ahead of print]34(12): 108898
      The INK4a/ARF locus encodes important cell-cycle regulators p14ARF, p15INK4b, and p16INK4a. The neighboring gene desert to this locus is the most reproducible GWAS hotspot that harbors one of the densest enhancer clusters in the genome. However, how multiple enhancers that overlap with GWAS variants regulate the INK4a/ARF locus is unknown, which is an important step in linking genetic variation with associated diseases. Here, we show that INK4a/ARF promoters interact with a subset of enhancers in the cluster, independent of their H3K27ac and eRNA levels. Interacting enhancers transcriptionally control each other and INK4a/ARF promoters over long distances as an interdependent single unit. The deletion of even a single interacting enhancer results in an unexpected collapse of the entire enhancer cluster and leads to EZH2 enrichment on promoters in an ANRIL-independent manner. Dysregulated genes genome-wide mimic 9p21-associated diseases under these scenarios. Our results highlight intricate dependencies of promoter-interacting enhancers on each other.
    Keywords:  9p21; ANRIL; CDKN2A; EZH2; GWAS; INK4a/ARF; chromatin organization; enhancer clusters; enhancer network; super enhancers
  10. Mol Cell. 2021 Mar 17. pii: S1097-2765(21)00176-3. [Epub ahead of print]
      The metazoan-specific acetyltransferase p300/CBP is involved in activating signal-induced, enhancer-mediated transcription of cell-type-specific genes. However, the global kinetics and mechanisms of p300/CBP activity-dependent transcription activation remain poorly understood. We performed genome-wide, time-resolved analyses to show that enhancers and super-enhancers are dynamically activated through p300/CBP-catalyzed acetylation, deactivated by the opposing deacetylase activity, and kinetic acetylation directly contributes to maintaining cell identity at very rapid (minutes) timescales. The acetyltransferase activity is dispensable for the recruitment of p300/CBP and transcription factors but essential for promoting the recruitment of TFIID and RNAPII at virtually all enhancers and enhancer-regulated genes. This identifies pre-initiation complex assembly as a dynamically controlled step in the transcription cycle and reveals p300/CBP-catalyzed acetylation as the signal that specifically promotes transcription initiation at enhancer-regulated genes. We propose that p300/CBP activity uses a "recruit-and-release" mechanism to simultaneously promote RNAPII recruitment and pause release and thereby enables kinetic activation of enhancer-mediated transcription.
    Keywords:  BRD4; PIC assembly; TFIID; acetylation; bromodomain; deacetylases; enhancer; p300/CBP; pause release; super-enhancer
  11. Cell Death Dis. 2021 Mar 24. 12(4): 311
      The histone H3.3K36M mutation, identified in over 90% of chondroblastoma cases, reprograms the H3K36 methylation landscape and gene expression to promote tumorigenesis. However, it's still unclear how the H3K36M mutation preferentially occurs in the histone H3 variant H3.3 in chondroblastomas. Here, we report that H3.3K36M-, but not H3.1K36M-, mutant cells showed increased colony formation ability and differentiation defects. H3K36 methylations and enhancers were reprogrammed to different status in H3.3K36M- and H3.1K36M-mutant cells. The reprogramming of H3K36 methylation and enhancers was depended on the specific loci at which H3.3K36M and H3.1K36M were incorporated. Moreover, targeting H3K36M-mutant proteins to the chromatin inhibited the H3K36 methylation locally. Taken together, these results highlight the roles of the chromatic localization of H3.3K36M-mutant protein in the reprogramming of the epigenome and the subsequent induction of tumorigenesis, and shed light on the molecular mechanisms by which the H3K36M mutation mainly occurs in histone H3.3 in chondroblastomas.
  12. Nat Commun. 2021 03 09. 12(1): 1521
      Resistance to next-generation anti-androgen enzalutamide (ENZ) constitutes a major challenge for the treatment of castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). By performing genome-wide ChIP-seq profiling in ENZ-resistant CRPC cells we identify a set of androgen receptor (AR) binding sites with increased AR binding intensity (ARBS-gained). While ARBS-gained loci lack the canonical androgen response elements (ARE) and pioneer factor FOXA1 binding motifs, they are highly enriched with CpG islands and the binding sites of unmethylated CpG dinucleotide-binding protein CXXC5 and the partner TET2. RNA-seq analysis reveals that both CXXC5 and its regulated genes including ID1 are upregulated in ENZ-resistant cell lines and these results are further confirmed in patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) and patient specimens. Consistent with the finding that ARBS-gained loci are highly enriched with H3K27ac modification, ENZ-resistant PCa cells, organoids, xenografts and PDXs are hyper-sensitive to NEO2734, a dual inhibitor of BET and CBP/p300 proteins. These results not only reveal a noncanonical AR function in acquisition of ENZ resistance, but also posit a treatment strategy to target this vulnerability in ENZ-resistant CRPC.
  13. EMBO Mol Med. 2021 Mar 10. e13162
      Metastasis is the main cause of deaths related to solid cancers. Active transcriptional programmes are known to regulate the metastatic cascade but the molecular determinants of metastatic colonization remain elusive. Using an inducible piggyBac (PB) transposon mutagenesis screen, we have shown that overexpression of the transcription factor nuclear factor IB (NFIB) alone is sufficient to enhance primary mammary tumour growth and lung metastatic colonization. Mechanistically and functionally, NFIB directly increases expression of the oxidoreductase ERO1A, which enhances HIF1α-VEGFA-mediated angiogenesis and colonization, the last and fatal step of the metastatic cascade. NFIB is thus clinically relevant: it is preferentially expressed in the poor-prognostic group of basal-like breast cancers, and high expression of the NFIB/ERO1A/VEGFA pathway correlates with reduced breast cancer patient survival.
    Keywords:  Breast cancer; ERO1A; NFIB; VEGFA; metastasis
  14. BMC Cancer. 2021 Mar 24. 21(1): 312
      BACKGROUND: Forkhead transcription factors control cell growth in multiple cancer types. Foxd1 is essential for kidney development and mitochondrial metabolism, but its significance in renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) has not been reported.METHODS: Transcriptome data from the TCGA database was used to correlate FOXD1 expression with patient survival. FOXD1 was knocked out in the 786-O cell line and known targets were analyzed. Reduced cell growth was observed and investigated in vitro using growth rate and Seahorse XF metabolic assays and in vivo using a xenograft model. Cell cycle characteristics were determined by flow cytometry and immunoblotting. Immunostaining for TUNEL and γH2AX was used to measure DNA damage. Association of the FOXD1 pathway with cell cycle progression was investigated through correlation analysis using the TCGA database.
    RESULTS: FOXD1 expression level in ccRCC correlated inversely with patient survival. Knockout of FOXD1 in 786-O cells altered expression of FOXD1 targets, particularly genes involved in metabolism (MICU1) and cell cycle progression. Investigation of metabolic state revealed significant alterations in mitochondrial metabolism and glycolysis, but no net change in energy production. In vitro growth rate assays showed a significant reduction in growth of 786-OFOXD1null. In vivo, xenografted 786-OFOXD1null showed reduced capacity for tumor formation and reduced tumor size. Cell cycle analysis showed that 786-OFOXD1null had an extended G2/M phase. Investigation of mitosis revealed a deficiency in phosphorylation of histone H3 in 786-OFOXD1null, and increased DNA damage. Genes correlate with FOXD1 in the TCGA dataset associate with several aspects of mitosis, including histone H3 phosphorylation.
    CONCLUSIONS: We show that FOXD1 regulates the cell cycle in ccRCC cells by control of histone H3 phosphorylation, and that FOXD1 expression governs tumor formation and tumor growth. Transcriptome analysis supports this role for FOXD1 in ccRCC patient tumors and provides an explanation for the inverse correlation between tumor expression of FOXD1 and patient survival. Our findings reveal an important role for FOXD1 in maintaining chromatin stability and promoting cell cycle progression and provide a new tool with which to study the biology of FOXD1 in ccRCC.
    Keywords:  Cell cycle; DNA damage; Forkhead; Kidney cancer
  15. Cell Cycle. 2021 Mar 25. 1-16
      The tumor suppressor protein p53 is a DNA-binding transcription factor (TF) that, once activated, coordinates the expression of thousands of target genes. Increased p53 binding to gene promoters occurs shortly after p53 activation. Intriguingly, gene transcription exhibits differential kinetics with some genes being induced early (early genes) and others being induced late (late genes). To understand pre-binding factors contributing to the temporal gene regulation by p53, we performed time-course RNA sequencing experiments in human colon cancer cell line HCT116 treated with fluorouracil to identify early and late genes. Published p53 ChIP fragments co-localized with the early or late genes were used to uncover p53 binding sites (BS). We demonstrate that the BS associated with early genes are clustered around gene starts with decreased nucleosome occupancy. DNA analysis shows that these BS are likely exposed on nucleosomal surface if wrapped into nucleosomes, thereby facilitating stable interactions with and fast induction by p53. By contrast, p53 BS associated with late genes are distributed uniformly across the genes with increased nucleosome occupancy. Predicted rotational settings of these BS show limited accessibility. We therefore propose a hypothetical model in which the BS are fully, partially or not accessible to p53 in the nucleosomal context. The partial accessibility of the BS allows subunits of a p53 tetramer to bind, but the resulting p53-DNA complex may not be stable enough to recruit cofactors, which leads to delayed induction. Our work highlights the importance of DNA conformations of p53 BS in gene expression dynamics.
    Keywords:  P53; binding sites; nucleosomes; temporal gene regulation
  16. J Cell Sci. 2021 Mar 26. pii: jcs.256792. [Epub ahead of print]
      Zinc finger of the cerebellum (Zic) proteins act as classical transcription factors to promote transcription of the Foxd3 gene during neural crest cell specification. Additionally, they can act as co-factors that bind TCF molecules to repress WNT/β-catenin-dependent transcription without contacting DNA. Here, we show ZIC activity at the neural plate border is influenced by WNT-dependent SUMOylation. In a high WNT environment, a lysine within the highly conserved ZF-NC domain of ZIC5 is SUMOylated, which decreases formation of the TCF/ZIC co-repressor complex and shifts the balance towards transcription factor function. The modification is critical in vivo, as a ZIC5 SUMO-incompetent mouse strain exhibits neural crest specification defects. This work reveals the function of the ZIC ZF-NC domain, provides in vivo validation of target protein SUMOylation, and demonstrates that WNT/β-catenin signaling directs transcription at non-TCF DNA binding sites. Furthermore, it can explain how WNT signals convert a broad domain of Zic ectodermal expression into a restricted domain of neural crest cell specification.
    Keywords:  Co-factor; Foxd3; Mouse neural crest cell; Post-translational modification; TCF; Transcription factor
  17. Nat Commun. 2021 03 25. 12(1): 1865
      Pluripotent cells of the mammalian embryo undergo extensive chromatin rewiring to prepare for lineage commitment after implantation. Repressive H3K27me3, deposited by Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), is reallocated from large blankets in pre-implantation embryos to mark promoters of developmental genes. The regulation of this global redistribution of H3K27me3 is poorly understood. Here we report a post-translational mechanism that destabilizes PRC2 to constrict H3K27me3 during lineage commitment. Using an auxin-inducible degron system, we show that the deubiquitinase Usp9x is required for mouse embryonic stem (ES) cell self-renewal. Usp9x-high ES cells have high PRC2 levels and bear a chromatin and transcriptional signature of the pre-implantation embryo, whereas Usp9x-low ES cells resemble the post-implantation, gastrulating epiblast. We show that Usp9x interacts with, deubiquitinates and stabilizes PRC2. Deletion of Usp9x in post-implantation embryos results in the derepression of genes that normally gain H3K27me3 after gastrulation, followed by the appearance of morphological abnormalities at E9.5, pointing to a recurrent link between Usp9x and PRC2 during development. Usp9x is a marker of "stemness" and is mutated in various neurological disorders and cancers. Our results unveil a Usp9x-PRC2 regulatory axis that is critical at peri-implantation and may be redeployed in other stem cell fate transitions and disease states.
  18. Nat Commun. 2021 03 09. 12(1): 1536
      Hyperactivation of the MAPK signaling pathway motivates the clinical use of MAPK inhibitors for BRAF-mutant melanomas. Heterogeneity in differentiation state due to epigenetic plasticity, however, results in cell-to-cell variability in the state of MAPK dependency, diminishing the efficacy of MAPK inhibitors. To identify key regulators of such variability, we screen 276 epigenetic-modifying compounds, individually or combined with MAPK inhibitors, across genetically diverse and isogenic populations of melanoma cells. Following single-cell analysis and multivariate modeling, we identify three classes of epigenetic inhibitors that target distinct epigenetic states associated with either one of the lysine-specific histone demethylases Kdm1a or Kdm4b, or BET bromodomain proteins. While melanocytes remain insensitive, the anti-tumor efficacy of each inhibitor is predicted based on melanoma cells' differentiation state and MAPK activity. Our systems pharmacology approach highlights a path toward identifying actionable epigenetic factors that extend the BRAF oncogene addiction paradigm on the basis of tumor cell differentiation state.
  19. Nucleic Acids Res. 2021 Mar 22. pii: gkab174. [Epub ahead of print]
      CRISPR-mediated gene activation (CRISPRa) is a promising therapeutic gene editing strategy without inducing DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). However, in vivo implementation of these CRISPRa systems remains a challenge. Here, we report a compact and robust miniCas9 activator (termed miniCAFE) for in vivo activation of endogenous target genes. The system relies on recruitment of an engineered minimal nuclease-null Cas9 from Campylobacter jejuni and potent transcriptional activators to a target locus by a single guide RNA. It enables robust gene activation in human cells even with a single DNA copy and is able to promote lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans through activation of longevity-regulating genes. As proof-of-concept, delivered within an all-in-one adeno-associated virus (AAV), miniCAFE can activate Fgf21 expression in the liver and regulate energy metabolism in adult mice. Thus, miniCAFE holds great therapeutic potential against human diseases.
  20. Mol Cell. 2021 Mar 11. pii: S1097-2765(21)00168-4. [Epub ahead of print]
      Developing strategies to activate tumor-cell-intrinsic immune response is critical for improving tumor immunotherapy by exploiting tumor vulnerability. KDM4A, as a histone H3 lysine 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3) demethylase, has been found to play a critical role in squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) growth and metastasis. Here we report that KDM4A inhibition promoted heterochromatin compaction and induced DNA replication stress, which elicited antitumor immunity in SCC. Mechanistically, KDM4A inhibition promoted the formation of liquid-like HP1γ puncta on heterochromatin and stall DNA replication, which activated tumor-cell-intrinsic cGAS-STING signaling through replication-stress-induced cytosolic DNA accumulation. Moreover, KDM4A inhibition collaborated with PD1 blockade to inhibit SCC growth and metastasis by recruiting and activating CD8+ T cells. In vivo lineage tracing demonstrated that KDM4A inhibition plus PD1 blockade efficiently eliminated cancer stem cells. Altogether, our results demonstrate that targeting KDM4A can activate anti-tumor immunity and enable PD1 blockade immunotherapy by aggravating replication stress in SCC cells.
    Keywords:  DNA replication stress; H3K9me3; KDM4A; PD-1 blockade; Phase separation; cancer stem cells; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; heterochromatin condensates; immune surveillance; metastasis
  21. Dev Cell. 2021 Mar 16. pii: S1534-5807(21)00203-3. [Epub ahead of print]
      Adenosine N6-methylation (m6A) is one of the most pervasive mRNA modifications, and yet the physiological significance of m6A removal (demethylation) remains elusive. Here, we report that the m6A demethylase FTO functions as a conserved regulator of motile ciliogenesis. Mechanistically, FTO demethylates and thereby stabilizes the mRNA that encodes the master ciliary transcription factor FOXJ1. Depletion of Fto in Xenopus laevis embryos caused widespread motile cilia defects, and Foxj1 was identified as one of the major phenocritical targets. In primary human airway epithelium, FTO depletion also led to FOXJ1 mRNA destabilization and a severe loss of ciliated cells with an increase of neighboring goblet cells. Consistently, Fto knockout mice showed strong asthma-like phenotypes upon allergen challenge, a result owing to defective ciliated cells in the airway epithelium. Altogether, our study reveals a conserved role of the FTO-FOXJ1 axis in embryonic and homeostatic motile ciliogenesis.
    Keywords:  FOXJ1; FTO; N6-methyladenosine; RNA modification; airway epithelium; asthma; m6A; motile ciliogenesis
  22. Stem Cell Reports. 2021 Mar 16. pii: S2213-6711(21)00129-6. [Epub ahead of print]
      Limited access to human oligodendrocytes impairs better understanding of oligodendrocyte pathology in myelin diseases. Here, we describe a method to robustly convert human fibroblasts directly into oligodendrocyte-like cells (dc-hiOLs), which allows evaluation of remyelination-promoting compounds and disease modeling. Ectopic expression of SOX10, OLIG2, and NKX6.2 in human fibroblasts results in rapid generation of O4+ cells, which further differentiate into MBP+ mature oligodendrocyte-like cells within 16 days. dc-hiOLs undergo chromatin remodeling to express oligodendrocyte markers, ensheath axons, and nanofibers in vitro, respond to promyelination compound treatment, and recapitulate in vitro oligodendroglial pathologies associated with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher leukodystrophy related to PLP1 mutations. Furthermore, DNA methylome analysis provides evidence that the CpG methylation pattern significantly differs between dc-hiOLs derived from fibroblasts of young and old donors, indicating the maintenance of the source cells' "age." In summary, dc-hiOLs represent a reproducible technology that could contribute to personalized medicine in the field of myelin diseases.
    Keywords:  ATAC-seq; PMD; compound screenin; direct conversion; epigenetic age; human fibroblasts; oligodendrocytes
  23. Commun Biol. 2021 Mar 25. 4(1): 397
      The tumor suppressor p53 protein activates expression of a vast gene network in response to stress stimuli for cellular integrity. The molecular mechanism underlying how p53 targets RNA polymerase II (Pol II) to regulate transcription remains unclear. To elucidate the p53/Pol II interaction, we have determined a 4.6 Å resolution structure of the human p53/Pol II assembly via single particle cryo-electron microscopy. Our structure reveals that p53's DNA binding domain targets the upstream DNA binding site within Pol II. This association introduces conformational changes of the Pol II clamp into a further-closed state. A cavity was identified between p53 and Pol II that could possibly host DNA. The transactivation domain of p53 binds the surface of Pol II's jaw that contacts downstream DNA. These findings suggest that p53's functional domains directly regulate DNA binding activity of Pol II to mediate transcription, thereby providing insights into p53-regulated gene expression.
  24. Dev Biol. 2021 Mar 20. pii: S0012-1606(21)00073-7. [Epub ahead of print]
      Congenital heart defects (CHDs) affecting the cardiac outflow tract (OFT) constitute a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. The OFT develops from migratory cell populations which include the cardiac neural crest cells (cNCCs) and secondary heart field (SHF) derived myocardium and endocardium. The related transcription factors HAND1 and HAND2 have been implicated in human CHDs involving the OFT. Although Hand1 is expressed within the OFT, Hand1 NCC-specific conditional knockout mice (H1CKOs) are viable. Here we show that these H1CKOs present a low penetrance of OFT phenotypes, whereas SHF-specific Hand1 ablation does not reveal any cardiac phenotypes. Further, HAND1 and HAND2 appear functionally redundant within the cNCCs, as a reduction/ablation of Hand2 on an NCC-specific H1CKO background causes pronounced OFT defects. Double conditional Hand1 and Hand2 NCC knockouts exhibit persistent truncus arteriosus (PTA) with 100% penetrance. NCC lineage-tracing and Sema3c in situ mRNA expression reveal that Sema3c-expressing cells are mis-localized, resulting in a malformed septal bridge within the OFTs of H1CKO;H2CKO embryos. Interestingly, Hand1 and Hand2 also genetically interact within the SHF, as SHF H1CKOs on a heterozygous Hand2 background exhibit Ventricular Septal Defects (VSDs) with incomplete penetrance. Previously, we identified a BMP, HAND2, and GATA-dependent Hand1 OFT enhancer sufficient to drive reporter gene expression within the nascent OFT and aorta. Using these transcription inputs as a probe, we identify a novel Hand2 OFT enhancer, suggesting that a conserved BMP-GATA dependent mechanism transcriptionally regulates both HAND factors. These findings support the hypothesis that HAND factors interpret BMP signaling within the cNCCs to cooperatively coordinate OFT morphogenesis.
    Keywords:  Cardiac neural crest; Cardiac outflow track; Congenital heart defects; HAND1; HAND2; Second heart field; Transcription; bHLH transcription factors
  25. Development. 2021 Mar 25. pii: dev.197319. [Epub ahead of print]
      Yin Yang 1 (YY1) is a ubiquitous transcription factor and mammalian Polycomb Group Protein (PcG) with important functions for regulating lymphocyte development and stem cell self-renewal. YY1 mediates stable PcG-dependent transcriptional repression via recruitment of PcG proteins that result in histone modifications. Many questions remain unanswered regarding how cell- and tissue-specificity is achieved by PcG proteins. Herein, we demonstrate that a conditional knockout of Yy1 in the hematopoietic system results in an early T cell developmental blockage at the double negative (DN) 1 stage with reduced Notch1 signaling. There is a lineage-specific requirement for YY1 PcG function. YY1 PcG domain is required for T and B cell development but not necessary for myeloid cells. YY1 functions in early T cell development are multicomponent and involve both PcG dependent and independent regulations. While YY1 promotes early T cell survival through its PcG function, its function to promote the DN1-DN2 transition and Notch1 expression and signaling is independent of its PcG function. Our results reveal how a ubiquitously expressed PcG protein mediates lineage-specific and context-specific functions to control early T cell development.
    Keywords:  Hematopoiesis; Notch1; Polycomb; T cell; YY1
  26. Mol Syst Biol. 2021 Mar;17(3): e9810
      Identifying cooperating modules of driver alterations can provide insights into cancer etiology and advance the development of effective personalized treatments. We present Cancer Rule Set Optimization (CRSO) for inferring the combinations of alterations that cooperate to drive tumor formation in individual patients. Application to 19 TCGA cancer types revealed a mean of 11 core driver combinations per cancer, comprising 2-6 alterations per combination and accounting for a mean of 70% of samples per cancer type. CRSO is distinct from methods based on statistical co-occurrence, which we demonstrate is a suboptimal criterion for investigating driver cooperation. CRSO identified well-studied driver combinations that were not detected by other approaches and nominated novel combinations that correlate with clinical outcomes in multiple cancer types. Novel synergies were identified in NRAS-mutant melanomas that may be therapeutically relevant. Core driver combinations involving NFE2L2 mutations were identified in four cancer types, supporting the therapeutic potential of NRF2 pathway inhibition. CRSO is available at
    Keywords:  cancer etiology; driver-gene combinations; multi-gene biomarkers; patient stratification; precision oncology
  27. Mol Cell. 2021 Mar 19. pii: S1097-2765(21)00178-7. [Epub ahead of print]
      Dysregulated mTORC1 signaling alters a wide range of cellular processes, contributing to metabolic disorders and cancer. Defining the molecular details of downstream effectors is thus critical for uncovering selective therapeutic targets. We report that mTORC1 and its downstream kinase S6K enhance eIF4A/4B-mediated translation of Wilms' tumor 1-associated protein (WTAP), an adaptor for the N6-methyladenosine (m6A) RNA methyltransferase complex. This regulation is mediated by 5' UTR of WTAP mRNA that is targeted by eIF4A/4B. Single-nucleotide-resolution m6A mapping revealed that MAX dimerization protein 2 (MXD2) mRNA contains m6A, and increased m6A modification enhances its degradation. WTAP induces cMyc-MAX association by suppressing MXD2 expression, which promotes cMyc transcriptional activity and proliferation of mTORC1-activated cancer cells. These results elucidate a mechanism whereby mTORC1 stimulates oncogenic signaling via m6A RNA modification and illuminates the WTAP-MXD2-cMyc axis as a potential therapeutic target for mTORC1-driven cancers.
    Keywords:  MXD2; Protein translation; S6K1; WTAP; YTHDF readers; cMyc; eIF4A; m(6)A mRNA modification; mRNA stability; mTORC1
  28. Cell Biol Int. 2021 Mar 24.
      TET1 mediates demethylation in tumors, but its role in diabetic nephropathy (DN), a prevalent diabetic complication, is unclear. We attempted to probe the possible mechanism of TET1 in DN. DN rat model was established and verified by marker detection and histopathological observation. The in vitro model was established on human mesangial cells (HMCs) induced by high glucose (HG), and verified by evaluation of fibrosis and inflammation. The differentially expressed mRNA was screened out by microarray analysis. The most differentially expressed mRNA (TET1) was reduced in DN rats and HG-HMCs. The upstream and downstream factors of TET1 were verified, and their roles in DN were analyzed by gain- and loss-function assays. TET1 was decreased in DN rats and HG-HMCs. High expression of TET1 decreased biochemical indexes and renal injury of DN rats, and hampered the activity, fibrosis and inflammation of HG-HMCs. Ap1 lowered TET1 expression, and enhanced inflammation in HG-HMCs and accentuated renal injury in DN rats. TET1 overexpression inhibited the effect of Ap1 on DN. TET1 promoted the transcription of Nrf2. The Ap1/TET1 axis mediated the Nrf2/ARE pathway activity. Overall, TET1 overexpression weakened the inhibitory effect of Ap1 on the Nrf2/ARE pathway, thus alleviating inflammation and renal injury in DN. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Keywords:  Ap1; Diabetic nephropathy; Inflammation; Nrf2/ARE pathway; Renal injury; TET1
  29. Cell Death Dis. 2021 Mar 25. 12(4): 319
      Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) is one of the most common malignancies with rapid growth and high metastasis, but lacks effective therapeutic targets. Here, using public sequencing data analyses, quantitative real-time PCR assay, western blotting, and IHC staining, we characterized that runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx2) was significantly upregulated in ccRCC tissues than that in normal renal tissues, which was associated with the worse survival of ccRCC patients. Overexpression of Runx2 promoted malignant proliferation and migration of ccRCC cells, and inversely, interfering Runx2 with siRNA attenuates its oncogenic ability. RNA sequencing and functional studies revealed that Runx2 enhanced ccRCC cell growth and metastasis via downregulation of tumor suppressor nucleolar and coiled-body phosphoprotein 1 (NOLC1). Moreover, increased Zic family member 2 (Zic2) was responsible for the upregulation of Runx2 and its oncogenic functions in ccRCC. Kaplan-Meier survival analyses indicated that ccRCC patients with high Zic2/Runx2 and low NOLC1 had the worst outcome. Therefore, our study demonstrates that Zic2/Runx2/NOLC1 signaling axis promotes ccRCC progression, providing a set of potential targets and prognostic indicators for patients with ccRCC.
  30. Nat Commun. 2021 03 23. 12(1): 1836
      To prevent damage to the host or its commensal microbiota, epithelial tissues must match the intensity of the immune response to the severity of a biological threat. Toll-like receptors allow epithelial cells to identify microbe associated molecular patterns. However, the mechanisms that mitigate biological noise in single cells to ensure quantitatively appropriate responses remain unclear. Here we address this question using single cell and single molecule approaches in mammary epithelial cells and primary organoids. We find that epithelial tissues respond to bacterial microbe associated molecular patterns by activating a subset of cells in an all-or-nothing (i.e. digital) manner. The maximum fraction of responsive cells is regulated by a bimodal epigenetic switch that licenses the TLR2 promoter for transcription across multiple generations. This mechanism confers a flexible memory of inflammatory events as well as unique spatio-temporal control of epithelial tissue-level immune responses. We propose that epigenetic licensing in individual cells allows for long-term, quantitative fine-tuning of population-level responses.