bims-crepig Biomed News
on Chromatin regulation and epigenetics in cell fate and cancer
Issue of 2021‒04‒04
nineteen papers selected by
Connor Rogerson
University of Cambridge, MRC Cancer Unit

  1. Mol Cell. 2021 Mar 22. pii: S1097-2765(21)00175-1. [Epub ahead of print]
      Heat shock instantly reprograms transcription. Whether gene and enhancer transcription fully recover from stress and whether stress establishes a memory by provoking transcription regulation that persists through mitosis remained unknown. Here, we measured nascent transcription and chromatin accessibility in unconditioned cells and in the daughters of stress-exposed cells. Tracking transcription genome-wide at nucleotide-resolution revealed that cells precisely restored RNA polymerase II (Pol II) distribution at gene bodies and enhancers upon recovery from stress. However, a single heat exposure in embryonic fibroblasts primed a faster gene induction in their daughter cells by increasing promoter-proximal Pol II pausing and by accelerating the pause release. In K562 erythroleukemia cells, repeated stress refined basal and heat-induced transcription over mitotic division and decelerated termination-coupled pre-mRNA processing. The slower termination retained transcripts on the chromatin and reduced recycling of Pol II. These results demonstrate that heat-induced transcriptional memory acts through promoter-proximal pause release and pre-mRNA processing at transcription termination.
    Keywords:  Pol II pausing; acquired stress resistance; chromatin accessibility; enhancer transcription; gene-enhancer networks; nascent transcription program; progression of Pol II; recycling of Pol II; transcription termination
  2. Nat Commun. 2021 Mar 30. 12(1): 1979
      Lineage plasticity, the ability of a cell to alter its identity, is an increasingly common mechanism of adaptive resistance to targeted therapy in cancer. An archetypal example is the development of neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC) after treatment of prostate adenocarcinoma (PRAD) with inhibitors of androgen signaling. NEPC is an aggressive variant of prostate cancer that aberrantly expresses genes characteristic of neuroendocrine (NE) tissues and no longer depends on androgens. Here, we investigate the epigenomic basis of this resistance mechanism by profiling histone modifications in NEPC and PRAD patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) using chromatin immunoprecipitation and sequencing (ChIP-seq). We identify a vast network of cis-regulatory elements (N~15,000) that are recurrently activated in NEPC. The FOXA1 transcription factor (TF), which pioneers androgen receptor (AR) chromatin binding in the prostate epithelium, is reprogrammed to NE-specific regulatory elements in NEPC. Despite loss of dependence upon AR, NEPC maintains FOXA1 expression and requires FOXA1 for proliferation and expression of NE lineage-defining genes. Ectopic expression of the NE lineage TFs ASCL1 and NKX2-1 in PRAD cells reprograms FOXA1 to bind to NE regulatory elements and induces enhancer activity as evidenced by histone modifications at these sites. Our data establish the importance of FOXA1 in NEPC and provide a principled approach to identifying cancer dependencies through epigenomic profiling.
  3. Nat Genet. 2021 Apr 01.
      Acquisition of cell fate is thought to rely on the specific interaction of remote cis-regulatory modules (CRMs), for example, enhancers and target promoters. However, the precise interplay between chromatin structure and gene expression is still unclear, particularly within multicellular developing organisms. In the present study, we employ Hi-M, a single-cell spatial genomics approach, to detect CRM-promoter looping interactions within topologically associating domains (TADs) during early Drosophila development. By comparing cis-regulatory loops in alternate cell types, we show that physical proximity does not necessarily instruct transcriptional states. Moreover, multi-way analyses reveal that multiple CRMs spatially coalesce to form hubs. Loops and CRM hubs are established early during development, before the emergence of TADs. Moreover, CRM hubs are formed, in part, via the action of the pioneer transcription factor Zelda and precede transcriptional activation. Our approach provides insight into the role of CRM-promoter interactions in defining transcriptional states, as well as distinct cell types.
  4. EMBO J. 2021 Apr 01. e105464
      Eukaryotic transcription factors recognize specific DNA sequence motifs, but are also endowed with generic, non-specific DNA-binding activity. How these binding modes are integrated to determine select transcriptional outputs remains unresolved. We addressed this question by site-directed mutagenesis of the Myc transcription factor. Impairment of non-specific DNA backbone contacts caused pervasive loss of genome interactions and gene regulation, associated with increased intra-nuclear mobility of the Myc protein in murine cells. In contrast, a mutant lacking base-specific contacts retained DNA-binding and mobility profiles comparable to those of the wild-type protein, but failed to recognize its consensus binding motif (E-box) and could not activate Myc-target genes. Incidentally, this mutant gained weak affinity for an alternative motif, driving aberrant activation of different genes. Altogether, our data show that non-specific DNA binding is required to engage onto genomic regulatory regions; sequence recognition in turn contributes to transcriptional activation, acting at distinct levels: stabilization and positioning of Myc onto DNA, and-unexpectedly-promotion of its transcriptional activity. Hence, seemingly pervasive genome interaction profiles, as detected by ChIP-seq, actually encompass diverse DNA-binding modalities, driving defined, sequence-dependent transcriptional responses.
    Keywords:  DNA binding; E-box; Myc; promoter; transcription
  5. Nucleic Acids Res. 2021 Mar 31. pii: gkab208. [Epub ahead of print]
      Pausing of transcribing RNA polymerase is regulated and creates opportunities to control gene expression. Research in metazoans has so far mainly focused on RNA polymerase II (Pol II) promoter-proximal pausing leaving the pervasive nature of pausing and its regulatory potential in mammalian cells unclear. Here, we developed a pause detecting algorithm (PDA) for nucleotide-resolution occupancy data and a new native elongating transcript sequencing approach, termed nested NET-seq, that strongly reduces artifactual peaks commonly misinterpreted as pausing sites. Leveraging PDA and nested NET-seq reveal widespread genome-wide Pol II pausing at single-nucleotide resolution in human cells. Notably, the majority of Pol II pauses occur outside of promoter-proximal gene regions primarily along the gene-body of transcribed genes. Sequence analysis combined with machine learning modeling reveals DNA sequence properties underlying widespread transcriptional pausing including a new pause motif. Interestingly, key sequence determinants of RNA polymerase pausing are conserved between human cells and bacteria. These studies indicate pervasive sequence-induced transcriptional pausing in human cells and the knowledge of exact pause locations implies potential functional roles in gene expression.
  6. Nat Genet. 2021 Apr 01.
      The relationship between chromatin organization and gene regulation remains unclear. While disruption of chromatin domains and domain boundaries can lead to misexpression of developmental genes, acute depletion of regulators of genome organization has a relatively small effect on gene expression. It is therefore uncertain whether gene expression and chromatin state drive chromatin organization or whether changes in chromatin organization facilitate cell-type-specific activation of gene expression. Here, using the dorsoventral patterning of the Drosophila melanogaster embryo as a model system, we provide evidence for the independence of chromatin organization and dorsoventral gene expression. We define tissue-specific enhancers and link them to expression patterns using single-cell RNA-seq. Surprisingly, despite tissue-specific chromatin states and gene expression, chromatin organization is largely maintained across tissues. Our results indicate that tissue-specific chromatin conformation is not necessary for tissue-specific gene expression but rather acts as a scaffold facilitating gene expression when enhancers become active.
  7. Epigenetics. 2021 Mar 29. 1-18
      The Assay for Transposase Accessible Chromatin by sequencing (ATAC-seq) is becoming popular in the neuroscience field where chromatin regulation is thought to be involved in neurodevelopment, activity-dependent gene regulation, hormonal and environmental responses, and pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disorders. The advantages of using ATAC-seq include a small amount of material needed, fast protocol, and the ability to capture a range of gene regulatory elements with a single assay. With increasing interest in chromatin research, it is an imperative to have feasible, reliable assays that are compatible with a range of neuroscience study designs. Here we tested three protocols for neuronal chromatin accessibility analysis, including a varying brain tissue freezing method followed by fluorescence-activated nuclei sorting (FANS) and ATAC-seq. Our study shows that the cryopreservation method impacts the number of open chromatin regions identified from frozen brain tissue using ATAC-seq. However, we show that all protocols generate consistent and robust data and enable the identification of functional regulatory elements in neuronal cells. Our study implies that the broad biological interpretation of chromatin accessibility data is not significantly affected by the freezing condition. We also reveal additional challenges of doing chromatin analysis on post-mortem human brain tissue. Overall, ATAC-seq coupled with FANS is a powerful method to capture cell-type-specific chromatin accessibility information in mouse and human brain. Our study provides alternative brain preservation methods that generate high-quality ATAC-seq data while fitting in different study designs, and further encourages the use of this method to uncover the role of epigenetic (dys)regulation in the brain.
    Keywords:  ATAC-seq; Chromatin accessibility; FACS; cell type-specific; epigenomics; freezing method; human brain; mouse brain; neuron
  8. PLoS Genet. 2021 Mar 30. 17(3): e1009483
      Conventionally viewed as male hormone, androgens play a critical role in female fertility. Although androgen receptors (AR) are transcription factors, to date very few direct transcriptional targets of ARs have been identified in the ovary. Using mouse models, this study provides three critical insights about androgen-induced gene regulation in the ovary and its impact on female fertility. First, RNA-sequencing reveals a number of genes and biological processes that were previously not known to be directly regulated by androgens in the ovary. Second, androgens can also influence gene expression by decreasing the tri-methyl mark on lysine 27 of histone3 (H3K27me3), a gene silencing epigenetic mark. ChIP-seq analyses highlight that androgen-induced modulation of H3K27me3 mark within gene bodies, promoters or distal enhancers have a much broader impact on ovarian function than the direct genomic effects of androgens. Third, androgen-induced decrease of H3K27me3 is mediated through (a) inhibiting the expression and activity of Enhancer of Zeste Homologue 2 (EZH2), a histone methyltransferase that promotes tri-methylation of K27 and (b) by inducing the expression of a histone demethylase called Jumonji domain containing protein-3 (JMJD3/KDM6B), responsible for removing the H3K27me3 mark. Androgens through the PI3K/Akt pathway, in a transcription-independent fashion, increase hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF1α) protein levels, which in turn induce JMJD3 expression. Furthermore, proof of concept studies involving in vivo knockdown of Ar in the ovary and ovarian (granulosa) cell-specific Ar knockout mouse model show that ARs regulate the expression of key ovarian genes through modulation of H3K27me3.
  9. NAR Cancer. 2021 Mar;3(1): zcab011
      Dysregulation of gene expression plays an important role in cancer development. Identifying transcriptional regulators, including transcription factors and chromatin regulators, that drive the oncogenic gene expression program is a critical task in cancer research. Genomic profiles of active transcriptional regulators from primary cancer samples are limited in the public domain. Here we present BART Cancer (, an interactive web resource database to display the putative transcriptional regulators that are responsible for differentially regulated genes in 15 different cancer types in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). BART Cancer integrates over 10000 gene expression profiling RNA-seq datasets from TCGA with over 7000 ChIP-seq datasets from the Cistrome Data Browser database and the Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO). BART Cancer uses Binding Analysis for Regulation of Transcription (BART) for predicting the transcriptional regulators from the differentially expressed genes in cancer samples compared to normal samples. BART Cancer also displays the activities of over 900 transcriptional regulators across cancer types, by integrating computational prediction results from BART and the Cistrome Cancer database. Focusing on transcriptional regulator activities in human cancers, BART Cancer can provide unique insights into epigenetics and transcriptional regulation in cancer, and is a useful data resource for genomics and cancer research communities.
  10. Nat Mach Intell. 2021 Feb;3(2): 172-180
      Transcription factors (TFs) bind DNA by recognizing specific sequence motifs, typically of length 6-12bp. A motif can occur many thousands of times in the human genome, but only a subset of those sites are actually bound. Here we present a machine learning framework leveraging existing convolutional neural network architectures and model interpretation techniques to identify and interpret sequence context features most important for predicting whether a particular motif instance will be bound. We apply our framework to predict binding at motifs for 38 TFs in a lymphoblastoid cell line, score the importance of context sequences at base-pair resolution, and characterize context features most predictive of binding. We find that the choice of training data heavily influences classification accuracy and the relative importance of features such as open chromatin. Overall, our framework enables novel insights into features predictive of TF binding and is likely to inform future deep learning applications to interpret non-coding genetic variants.
  11. Cell Rep. 2021 Mar 30. pii: S2211-1247(21)00226-6. [Epub ahead of print]34(13): 108912
      The fine-scale dynamics from euchromatin (EC) to facultative heterochromatin (fHC) has remained largely unclear. Here, we focus on Xist and its silencing initiator Tsix as a paradigm of transcription-mediated conversion from EC to fHC. In mouse epiblast stem cells, induction of Tsix recapitulates the conversion at the Xist promoter. Investigating the dynamics reveals that the conversion proceeds in a stepwise manner. Initially, a transient opened chromatin structure is observed. In the second step, gene silencing is initiated and dependent on Tsix, which is reversible and accompanied by simultaneous changes in multiple histone modifications. At the last step, maintenance of silencing becomes independent of Tsix and irreversible, which correlates with occupation of the -1 position of the transcription start site by a nucleosome and initiation of DNA methylation introduction. This study highlights the hierarchy of multiple chromatin events upon stepwise gene silencing establishment.
    Keywords:  Tsix; cis-NATs; dynamics; epigenetics; local gene silencing
  12. Nat Cell Biol. 2021 Apr 01.
      Methyltransferase-like 3 (METTL3) and 14 (METTL14) are core subunits of the methyltransferase complex that catalyses messenger RNA N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modification. Despite the expanding list of m6A-dependent functions of the methyltransferase complex, the m6A-independent function of the METTL3 and METTL14 complex remains poorly understood. Here we show that genome-wide redistribution of METTL3 and METTL14 transcriptionally drives the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) in an m6A-independent manner. METTL14 is redistributed to the enhancers, whereas METTL3 is localized to the pre-existing NF-κB sites within the promoters of SASP genes during senescence. METTL3 and METTL14 are necessary for SASP. However, SASP is not regulated by m6A mRNA modification. METTL3 and METTL14 are required for both the tumour-promoting and immune-surveillance functions of senescent cells, which are mediated by SASP in vivo in mouse models. In summary, our results report an m6A-independent function of the METTL3 and METTL14 complex in transcriptionally promoting SASP during senescence.
  13. Nat Genet. 2021 Apr 01.
      Single-nucleus assay for transposase-accessible chromatin using sequencing (snATAC-seq) creates new opportunities to dissect cell type-specific mechanisms of complex diseases. Since pancreatic islets are central to type 2 diabetes (T2D), we profiled 15,298 islet cells by using combinatorial barcoding snATAC-seq and identified 12 clusters, including multiple alpha, beta and delta cell states. We cataloged 228,873 accessible chromatin sites and identified transcription factors underlying lineage- and state-specific regulation. We observed state-specific enrichment of fasting glucose and T2D genome-wide association studies for beta cells and enrichment for other endocrine cell types. At T2D signals localized to islet-accessible chromatin, we prioritized variants with predicted regulatory function and co-accessibility with target genes. A causal T2D variant rs231361 at the KCNQ1 locus had predicted effects on a beta cell enhancer co-accessible with INS and genome editing in embryonic stem cell-derived beta cells affected INS levels. Together our findings demonstrate the power of single-cell epigenomics for interpreting complex disease genetics.
  14. NAR Genom Bioinform. 2021 Mar;3(1): lqab017
      Chromosome conformation capture (3C) technologies measure the interaction frequency between pairs of chromatin regions within the nucleus in a cell or a population of cells. Some of these 3C technologies retrieve interactions involving non-contiguous sets of loci, resulting in sparse interaction matrices. One of such 3C technologies is Promoter Capture Hi-C (pcHi-C) that is tailored to probe only interactions involving gene promoters. As such, pcHi-C provides sparse interaction matrices that are suitable to characterize short- and long-range enhancer-promoter interactions. Here, we introduce a new method to reconstruct the chromatin structural (3D) organization from sparse 3C-based datasets such as pcHi-C. Our method allows for data normalization, detection of significant interactions and reconstruction of the full 3D organization of the genomic region despite of the data sparseness. Specifically, it builds, with as low as the 2-3% of the data from the matrix, reliable 3D models of similar accuracy of those based on dense interaction matrices. Furthermore, the method is sensitive enough to detect cell-type-specific 3D organizational features such as the formation of different networks of active gene communities.
  15. Epigenetics Chromatin. 2021 Mar 31. 14(1): 18
      BACKGROUND: Maternal protein restriction diet (PRD) increases the risk of metabolic dysfunction in adulthood, the mechanisms during the early life of offspring are still poorly understood. Apart from genetic factors, epigenetic mechanisms are crucial to offer phenotypic plasticity in response to environmental situations and transmission. Enhancer-associated noncoding RNAs (eRNAs) transcription serves as a robust indicator of enhancer activation, and have potential roles in mediating enhancer functions and gene transcription.RESULTS: Using global run-on sequencing (GRO-seq) of nascent RNA including eRNA and total RNA sequencing data, we show that early-life undernutrition causes remodeling of enhancer activity in mouse liver. Differentially expressed nascent active genes were enriched in metabolic pathways. Besides, our work detected a large number of high confidence enhancers based on eRNA transcription at the ages of 4 weeks and 7 weeks, respectively. Importantly, except for ~ 1000 remodeling enhancers, the early-life undernutrition induced instability of enhancer activity which decreased in 4 weeks and increased in adulthood. eRNA transcription mainly contributes to the regulation of some important metabolic enzymes, suggesting a link between metabolic dysfunction and enhancer transcriptional control. We discovered a novel eRNA that is positively correlated to the expression of circadian gene Cry1 with increased binding of epigenetic cofactor p300.
    CONCLUSIONS: Our study reveals novel insights into mechanisms of metabolic dysfunction. Enhancer activity in early life acts on metabolism-associated genes, leading to the increased susceptibility of metabolic disorders.
    Keywords:  Early-life undernutrition; Enhancer; Global run-on sequencing; Metabolism; Nascent RNA
  16. Nat Genet. 2021 Mar 29.
      Ultraconserved enhancer sequences show perfect conservation between human and rodent genomes, suggesting that their functions are highly sensitive to mutation. However, current models of enhancer function do not sufficiently explain this extreme evolutionary constraint. We subjected 23 ultraconserved enhancers to different levels of mutagenesis, collectively introducing 1,547 mutations, and examined their activities in transgenic mouse reporter assays. Overall, we find that the regulatory properties of ultraconserved enhancers are robust to mutation. Upon mutagenesis, nearly all (19/23, 83%) still functioned as enhancers at one developmental stage, as did most of those tested again later in development (5/9, 56%). Replacement of endogenous enhancers with mutated alleles in mice corroborated results of transgenic assays, including the functional resilience of ultraconserved enhancers to mutation. Our findings show that the currently known activities of ultraconserved enhancers do not necessarily require the perfect conservation observed in evolution and suggest that additional regulatory or other functions contribute to their sequence constraint.
  17. Epigenomics. 2021 Mar 30.
      Aims & objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate the role of DNA methylation in invasiveness in melanoma cells. Materials & methods: The authors carried out genome-wide transcriptome (RNA sequencing) and reduced representation bisulfite sequencing methylome profiling between noninvasive (n = 4) and invasive melanoma cell lines (n = 5). Results: The integration of differentially expressed genes and differentially methylated fragments (DMFs) identified 12 DMFs (two in AVPI1, one in HMG20B, two in BCL3, one in NTSR1, one in SYNJ2, one in ROBO2 and four in HORMAD2) that overlapped with either differentially expressed genes (eight DMFs and six genes) or cis-targets of LncRNAs (five DMFs associated with cis-targets and four differentially expressed LncRNAs). Conclusions: DNA methylation changes are associated with a number of transcriptional differences observed in noninvasive and invasive phenotypes in melanoma.
    Keywords:  DNA methylation; LncRNAs; RNA-seq; cell invasion; gene expression; global methylation; invasive; metastatic melanoma; noninvasive; phenotype switching
  18. Nat Commun. 2021 Apr 01. 12(1): 2021
      DNA methylation is a critical regulatory mechanism implicated in development, learning, memory, and disease in the human brain. Here we have elucidated DNA methylation changes during recent human brain evolution. We demonstrate dynamic evolutionary trajectories of DNA methylation in cell-type and cytosine-context specific manner. Specifically, DNA methylation in non-CG context, namely CH methylation, has increased (hypermethylation) in neuronal gene bodies during human brain evolution, contributing to human-specific down-regulation of genes and co-expression modules. The effects of CH hypermethylation is particularly pronounced in early development and neuronal subtypes. In contrast, DNA methylation in CG context shows pronounced reduction (hypomethylation) in human brains, notably in cis-regulatory regions, leading to upregulation of downstream genes. We show that the majority of differential CG methylation between neurons and oligodendrocytes originated before the divergence of hominoids and catarrhine monkeys, and harbors strong signal for genetic risk for schizophrenia. Remarkably, a substantial portion of differential CG methylation between neurons and oligodendrocytes emerged in the human lineage since the divergence from the chimpanzee lineage and carries significant genetic risk for schizophrenia. Therefore, recent epigenetic evolution of human cortex has shaped the cellular regulatory landscape and contributed to the increased vulnerability to neuropsychiatric diseases.
  19. Epigenetics. 2021 Mar 30. 1-21
      The mammalian kidney has extensive repair capacity; however, identifying adult renal stem cells has proven elusive. We applied an epigenetic marker of foetal cell origin (FCO) in diverse human tissues as a probe for developmental cell persistence, finding a 5.4-fold greater FCO proportion in kidney. Normal kidney FCO proportions averaged 49% with extensive interindividual variation. FCO proportions were significantly negatively correlated with immune-related gene expression and positively correlated with genes expressed in the renal medulla, including those involved in renal organogenesis (e.g., FGF2, PAX8, and HOXB7). FCO associated genes also mapped to medullary nephron segments in mouse and rat, suggesting evolutionary conservation of this cellular compartment. Renal cancer patients whose tumours contained non-zero FCO scores survived longer. The kidney appears unique in possessing substantial foetal epigenetic features. Further study of FCO-related gene methylation may elucidate regenerative regulatory programmes in tissues without apparent discrete stem cell compartments.
    Keywords:  DNA methylation; Kidney; epigenetics; foetal stem cells; stem cell niche