Journal Articles

  • Determinants of expression variability
    [Apr 2014]

    The amount of tissue-specific expression variability (EV) across individuals is an essential characteristic of a gene and believed to have evolved, in part, under functional constraints. However, the determinants and functional implications of EV are only beginning to be investigated. Our analyses based on multiple expression profiles in 41 primary human tissues show that a gene’s EV is significantly correlated with a number of features pertaining to the genomic, epigenomic, regulatory, polymorphic, functional, structural and network characteristics of the gene. We found that (i) EV of a gene is encoded, in part, by its genomic context and is further influenced by the epigenome; (ii) strong promoters induce less variable expression; (iii) less variable gene loci evolve under purifying selection against copy number polymorphisms; (iv) genes that encode inherently disordered or highly interacting proteins exhibit lower variability; and (v) genes with less variable expression are enriched for house-keeping functions, while genes with highly variable expression tend to function in development and extra-cellular response and are associated with human diseases. Thus, our analysis reveals a number of potential mediators as well as functional and evolutionary correlates of EV, and provides new insights into the inherent variability in eukaryotic gene expression.

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  • Predicting DNA methylation level across human tissues
    [Apr 2014]

    Differences in methylation across tissues are critical to cell differentiation and are key to understanding the role of epigenetics in complex diseases. In this investigation, we found that locus-specific methylation differences between tissues are highly consistent across individuals. We developed a novel statistical model to predict locus-specific methylation in target tissue based on methylation in surrogate tissue. The method was evaluated in publicly available data and in two studies using the latest IlluminaBeadChips: a childhood asthma study with methylation measured in both peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) and lymphoblastoid cell lines; and a study of postoperative atrial fibrillation with methylation in PBL, atrium and artery. We found that our method can greatly improve accuracy of cross-tissue prediction at CpG sites that are variable in the target tissue [R2 increases from 0.38 (original R2 between tissues) to 0.89 for PBL-to-artery prediction; from 0.39 to 0.95 for PBL-to-atrium; and from 0.81 to 0.98 for lymphoblastoid cell line-to-PBL based on cross-validation, and confirmed using cross-study prediction]. An extended model with multiple CpGs further improved performance. Our results suggest that large-scale epidemiology studies using easy-to-access surrogate tissues (e.g. blood) could be recalibrated to improve understanding of epigenetics in hard-to-access tissues (e.g. atrium) and might enable non-invasive disease screening using epigenetic profiles.

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  • Immortality, but not oncogenic transformation, of primary human cells leads to epigenetic reprogramming of DNA methylation and gene expression
    [Apr 2014]

    Tumourigenic transformation of normal cells into cancer typically involves several steps resulting in acquisition of unlimited growth potential, evasion of apoptosis and non-responsiveness to growth inhibitory signals. Both genetic and epigenetic changes can contribute to cancer development and progression. Given the vast genetic heterogeneity of human cancers and difficulty to monitor cancer-initiating events in vivo, the precise relationship between acquisition of genetic mutations and the temporal progression of epigenetic alterations in transformed cells is largely unclear. Here, we use an in vitro model system to investigate the contribution of cellular immortality and oncogenic transformation of primary human cells to epigenetic reprogramming of DNA methylation and gene expression. Our data demonstrate that extension of replicative life span of the cells is sufficient to induce accumulation of DNA methylation at gene promoters and large-scale changes in gene expression in a time-dependent manner. In contrast, continuous expression of cooperating oncogenes in immortalized cells, although essential for anchorage-independent growth and evasion of apoptosis, does not affect de novo DNA methylation at promoters and induces subtle expression changes. Taken together, these observations imply that cellular immortality promotes epigenetic adaptation to highly proliferative state, whereas transforming oncogenes confer additional properties to transformed human cells.

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  • Identification of histone 3 variant 2 interacting factors
    [Apr 2014]

    The epigenome is defined as a type of information that can be transmitted independently of the DNA sequence, at the chromatin level, through post-translational modifications present on histone tails. Recent advances in the identification of histone 3 variants suggest a new model of information transmission through deposition of specific histone variants. To date, several non-centromeric histone 3 variants have been identified in mammals. Despite protein sequence similarity, specific deposition complexes have been characterized for both histone 3.1 (H3.1) and histone 3.3 (H3.3), whereas no deposition complex for histone 3.2 (H3.2) has been identified to date. Here, we identified human H3.2 partners by immunopurification of nuclear H3.2 complexes followed by mass spectrometry analysis. Further biochemical analyses highlighted two major complexes associated with H3.2, one containing chromatin associated factor-1 subunits and the other consisting of a subcomplex of mini chromosome maintenance helicases, together with Asf1. The purified complexes could associate with a DNA template in vitro.

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  • CpG domains downstream of TSSs promote high levels of gene expression
    [Apr 2014]

    CpG dinucleotides are known to play a crucial role in regulatory domains, affecting gene expression in their natural context. Here, we demonstrate that intragenic CpG frequency and distribution impacts transgene and genomic gene expression levels in mammalian cells. As shown for the Macrophage Inflammatory Protein 1α, de novo RNA synthesis correlates with the number of CpG dinucleotides, whereas RNA splicing, stability, nuclear export and translation are not affected by the sequence modification. Differences in chromatin accessibility in vivo and altered nucleosome positioning in vitro suggest that increased CpG levels destabilize the chromatin structure. Moreover, enriched CpG levels correlate with increased RNA polymerase II elongation rates in vivo. Interestingly, elevated CpG levels particularly at the 5' end of the gene promote efficient transcription. We show that this is a genome-wide feature of highly expressed genes, by identifying a domain of ~700 bp with high CpG content downstream of the transcription start site, correlating with high levels of transcription. We suggest that these 5' CpG domains are required to distort the chromatin structure and to increase gene activity.

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  • Transcriptional repressor NIR interacts with the p53-inhibiting ubiquitin ligase MDM2
    [Apr 2014]

    NIR (novel INHAT repressor) can bind to p53 at promoters and inhibit p53-mediated gene transactivation by blocking histone acetylation carried out by p300/CBP. Like NIR, the E3 ubiquitin ligase MDM2 can also bind and inhibit p53 at promoters. Here, we present data indicating that NIR, which shuttles between the nucleolus and nucleoplasm, not only binds to p53 but also directly to MDM2, in part via the central acidic and zinc finger domain of MDM2 that is also contacted by several other nucleolus-based MDM2/p53-regulating proteins. Like some of these, NIR was able to inhibit the ubiquitination of MDM2 and stabilize MDM2; however, unlike these nucleolus-based MDM2 regulators, NIR did not inhibit MDM2 to activate p53. Rather, NIR cooperated with MDM2 to repress p53-induced transactivation. This cooperative repression may at least in part involve p300/CBP. We show that NIR can block the acetylation of p53 and MDM2. Non-acetylated p53 has been documented previously to more readily associate with inhibitory MDM2. NIR may thus help to sustain the inhibitory p53:MDM2 complex, and we present evidence suggesting that all three proteins can indeed form a ternary complex. In sum, our findings suggest that NIR can support MDM2 to suppress p53 as a transcriptional activator.

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  • The PR-Set7 binding domain of Riz1 is required for the H4K20me1-H3K9me1 trans-tail 'histone code' and Riz1 tumor suppressor function
    [Apr 2014]

    PR-Set7/Set8/KMT5a is the sole histone H4 lysine 20 monomethyltransferase (H4K20me1) in metazoans and is essential for proper cell division and genomic stability. We unexpectedly discovered that normal cellular levels of monomethylated histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9me1) were also dependent on PR-Set7, but independent of its catalytic activity. This observation suggested that PR-Set7 interacts with an H3K9 monomethyltransferase to establish the previously reported H4K20me1-H3K9me1 trans-tail ‘histone code’. Here we show that PR-Set7 specifically and directly binds the C-terminus of the Riz1/PRDM2/KMT8 tumor suppressor and demonstrate that the N-terminal PR/SET domain of Riz1 preferentially monomethylates H3K9. The PR-Set7 binding domain was required for Riz1 nuclear localization and maintenance of the H4K20me1-H3K9me1 trans-tail ‘histone code’. Although Riz1 can function as a repressor, Riz1/H3K9me1 was dispensable for the repression of genes regulated by PR-Set7/H4K20me1. Frameshift mutations resulting in a truncated Riz1 incapable of binding PR-Set7 occur frequently in various aggressive cancers. In these cancer cells, expression of wild-type Riz1 restored tumor suppression by decreasing proliferation and increasing apoptosis. These phenotypes were not observed in cells expressing either the Riz1 PR/SET domain or PR-Set7 binding domain indicating that Riz1 methyltransferase activity and PR-Set7 binding domain are both essential for Riz1 tumor suppressor function.

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  • AUF1 contributes to Cryptochrome1 mRNA degradation and rhythmic translation
    [Apr 2014]

    In the present study, we investigated the 3' untranslated region (UTR) of the mouse core clock gene cryptochrome 1 (Cry1) at the post-transcriptional level, particularly its translational regulation. Interestingly, the 3'UTR of Cry1 mRNA decreased its mRNA levels but increased protein amounts. The 3'UTR is widely known to function as a cis-acting element of mRNA degradation. The 3'UTR also provides a binding site for microRNA and mainly suppresses translation of target mRNAs. We found that AU-rich element RNA binding protein 1 (AUF1) directly binds to the Cry1 3'UTR and regulates translation of Cry1 mRNA. AUF1 interacted with eukaryotic translation initiation factor 3 subunit B and also directly associated with ribosomal protein S3 or ribosomal protein S14, resulting in translation of Cry1 mRNA in a 3'UTR-dependent manner. Expression of cytoplasmic AUF1 and binding of AUF1 to the Cry1 3'UTR were parallel to the circadian CRY1 protein profile. Our results suggest that the 3'UTR of Cry1 is important for its rhythmic translation, and AUF1 bound to the 3'UTR facilitates interaction with the 5' end of mRNA by interacting with translation initiation factors and recruiting the 40S ribosomal subunit to initiate translation of Cry1 mRNA.

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  • Three-tiered role of the pioneer factor GATA2 in promoting androgen-dependent gene expression in prostate cancer
    [Apr 2014]

    In prostate cancer, androgen receptor (AR) binding and androgen-responsive gene expression are defined by hormone-independent binding patterns of the pioneer factors FoxA1 and GATA2. Insufficient evidence of the mechanisms by which GATA2 contributes to this process precludes complete understanding of a key determinant of tissue-specific AR activity. Our observations suggest that GATA2 facilitates androgen-responsive gene expression by three distinct modes of action. By occupying novel binding sites within the AR gene locus, GATA2 positively regulates AR expression before and after androgen stimulation. Additionally, GATA2 engages AR target gene enhancers prior to hormone stimulation, producing an active and accessible chromatin environment via recruitment of the histone acetyltransferase p300. Finally, GATA2 functions in establishing and/or sustaining basal locus looping by recruiting the Mediator subunit MED1 in the absence of androgen. These mechanisms may contribute to the generally positive role of GATA2 in defining AR genome-wide binding patterns that determine androgen-responsive gene expression profiles. We also find that GATA2 and FoxA1 exhibit both independent and codependent co-occupancy of AR target gene enhancers. Identifying these determinants of AR transcriptional activity may provide a foundation for the development of future prostate cancer therapeutics that target pioneer factor function.

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  • Comparative ribosome profiling reveals extensive translational complexity in different Trypanosoma brucei life cycle stages
    [Apr 2014]

    While gene expression is a fundamental and tightly controlled cellular process that is regulated at multiple steps, the exact contribution of each step remains unknown in any organism. The absence of transcription initiation regulation for RNA polymerase II in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei greatly simplifies the task of elucidating the contribution of translation to global gene expression. Therefore, we have sequenced ribosome-protected mRNA fragments in T. brucei, permitting the genome-wide analysis of RNA translation and translational efficiency. We find that the latter varies greatly between life cycle stages of the parasite and ~100-fold between genes, thus contributing to gene expression to a similar extent as RNA stability. The ability to map ribosome positions at sub-codon resolution revealed extensive translation from upstream open reading frames located within 5' UTRs and enabled the identification of hundreds of previously un-annotated putative coding sequences (CDSs). Evaluation of existing proteomics and genome-wide RNAi data confirmed the translation of previously un-annotated CDSs and suggested an important role for >200 of those CDSs in parasite survival, especially in the form that is infective to mammals. Overall our data show that translational control plays a prevalent and important role in different parasite life cycle stages of T. brucei.

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  • The amino terminal extension of mammalian mitochondrial RNA polymerase ensures promoter specific transcription initiation
    [Apr 2014]

    Mammalian mitochondrial transcription is executed by a single subunit mitochondrial RNA polymerase (Polrmt) and its two accessory factors, mitochondrial transcription factors A and B2 (Tfam and Tfb2m). Polrmt is structurally related to single-subunit phage RNA polymerases, but it also contains a unique N-terminal extension (NTE) of unknown function. We here demonstrate that the NTE functions together with Tfam to ensure promoter-specific transcription. When the NTE is deleted, Polrmt can initiate transcription in the absence of Tfam, both from promoters and non-specific DNA sequences. Additionally, when in presence of Tfam and a mitochondrial promoter, the NTE-deleted mutant has an even higher transcription activity than wild-type polymerase, indicating that the NTE functions as an inhibitory domain. Our studies lead to a model according to which Tfam specifically recruits wild-type Polrmt to promoter sequences, relieving the inhibitory effect of the NTE, as a first step in transcription initiation. In the second step, Tfb2m is recruited into the complex and transcription is initiated.

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