Circumvention of the telomere length-dependent mechanisms that control the upper boundaries of cellular proliferation is necessary for the unlimited growth of cancer. Most cancer cells achieve cellular immortality by up-regulating the expression of telomerase to extend and maintain their telomere length. However, a small but significant number of cancers do so via the exchange of telomeric DNA between chromosomes in a pathway termed alternative lengthening of telomeres, or ALT. Although it remains to be clarified why a cell chooses the ALT pathway and how ALT is initiated, recently identified mutations in factors that shape the chromatin and epigenetic landscape of ALT telomeres are shedding light on these mechanisms. In this review, we examine these recent findings and integrate them into the current models of the ALT mechanism.
The hierarchical relationships between stem cells and progenitors that guide mammary gland morphogenesis are still poorly defined. While multipotent basal stem cells have been found within the myoepithelial compartment, the in vivo lineage potential of luminal progenitors is unclear. Here we used the expression of the Notch1 receptor, previously implicated in mammary gland development and tumorigenesis, to elucidate the hierarchical organization of mammary stem/progenitor cells by lineage tracing. We found that Notch1 expression identifies multipotent stem cells in the embryonic mammary bud, which progressively restrict their lineage potential during mammary ductal morphogenesis to exclusively generate an ERαneg luminal lineage postnatally. Importantly, our results show that Notch1-labelled cells represent the alveolar progenitors that expand during pregnancy and survive multiple successive involutions. This study reveals that postnatal luminal epithelial cells derive from distinct self-sustained lineages that may represent the cells of origin of different breast cancer subtypes.
X chromosome inactivation (XCI) and allelic exclusion of olfactory receptors or immunoglobulin loci represent classic examples of random monoallelic expression (RME). RME of some single copy genes has also been reported, but the in vivo relevance of this remains unclear. Here we identify several hundred RME genes in clonal neural progenitor cell lines derived from embryonic stem cells. RME occurs during differentiation, and, once established, the monoallelic state can be highly stable. We show that monoallelic expression also occurs in vivo, in the absence of DNA sequence polymorphism. Several of the RME genes identified play important roles in development and have been implicated in human autosomal-dominant disorders. We propose that monoallelic expression of such genes contributes to the fine-tuning of the developmental regulatory pathways they control, and, in the context of a mutation, RME can predispose to loss of function in a proportion of cells and thus contribute to disease.
A new level of chromosome organization, topologically associating domains (TADs), was recently uncovered by chromosome conformation capture (3C) techniques. To explore TAD structure and function, we developed a polymer model that can extract the full repertoire of chromatin conformations within TADs from population-based 3C data. This model predicts actual physical distances and to what extent chromosomal contacts vary between cells. It also identifies interactions within single TADs that stabilize boundaries between TADs and allows us to identify and genetically validate key structural elements within TADs. Combining the model’s predictions with high-resolution DNA FISH and quantitative RNA FISH for TADs within the X-inactivation center (Xic), we dissect the relationship between transcription and spatial proximity to cis-regulatory elements. We demonstrate that contacts between potential regulatory elements occur in the context of fluctuating structures rather than stable loops and propose that such fluctuations may contribute to asymmetric expression in the Xic during X inactivation.
During development, mechanical forces cause changes in size, shape, number, position, and gene expression of cells. They are therefore integral to any morphogenetic processes. Force generation by actin-myosin networks and force transmission through adhesive complexes are two self-organizing phenomena driving tissue morphogenesis. Coordination and integration of forces by long-range force transmission and mechanosensing of cells within tissues produce large-scale tissue shape changes. Extrinsic mechanical forces also control tissue patterning by modulating cell fate specification and differentiation. Thus, the interplay between tissue mechanics and biochemical signaling orchestrates tissue morphogenesis and patterning in development.
Planar cell rearrangements control epithelial tissue morphogenesis and cellular pattern formation. They lead to the formation of new junctions whose length and stability determine the cellular pattern of tissues. Here, we show that during Drosophila wing development the loss of the tumor suppressor PTEN disrupts cell rearrangements by preventing the lengthening of newly formed junctions that become unstable and keep on rearranging. We demonstrate that the failure to lengthen and to stabilize is caused by the lack of a decrease of Myosin II and Rho-kinase concentration at the newly formed junctions. This defect results in a heterogeneous cortical contractility at cell junctions that disrupts regular hexagonal pattern formation. By identifying PTEN as a specific regulator of junction lengthening and stability, our results uncover how a homogenous distribution of cortical contractility along the cell cortex is restored during cell rearrangement to control the formation of epithelial cellular pattern.
During early development of female mouse embryos, both X chromosomes are transiently active. X gene dosage is then equalized between the sexes through the process of X chromosome inactivation (XCI). Whether the double dose of X-linked genes in females compared with males leads to sex-specific developmental differences has remained unclear. Using embryonic stem cells with distinct sex chromosome compositions as a model system, we show that two X chromosomes stabilize the naive pluripotent state by inhibiting MAPK and Gsk3 signaling and stimulating the Akt pathway. Since MAPK signaling is required to exit the pluripotent state, differentiation is paused in female cells as long as both X chromosomes are active. By preventing XCI or triggering it precociously, we demonstrate that this differentiation block is released once XX cells have undergone X inactivation. We propose that double X dosage interferes with differentiation, thus ensuring a tight coupling between X chromosome dosage compensation and development.
During X chromosome inactivation (XCI), the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) is thought to participate in the early maintenance of the inactive state. Although Xist RNA is essential for the recruitment of PRC2 to the X chromosome, the precise mechanism remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that the PRC2 cofactor Jarid2 is an important mediator of Xist-induced PRC2 targeting. The region containing the conserved B and F repeats of Xist is critical for Jarid2 recruitment via its unique N-terminal domain. Xist-induced Jarid2 recruitment occurs chromosome-wide independently of a functional PRC2 complex, unlike at other parts of the genome, such as CG-rich regions, where Jarid2 and PRC2 binding are interdependent. Conversely, we show that Jarid2 loss prevents efficient PRC2 and H3K27me3 enrichment to Xist-coated chromatin. Jarid2 thus represents an important intermediate between PRC2 and Xist RNA for the initial targeting of the PRC2 complex to the X chromosome during onset of XCI.
Sequence-specific nucleases like TALENs and the CRISPR/Cas9 system have greatly expanded the genome editing possibilities in model organisms such as zebrafish. Both systems have recently been used to create knock-out alleles with great efficiency and TALENs have also successfully been employed to knock-in DNA cassettes at defined loci via homologous recombination (HR). Here, we report CRISPR/Cas9-mediated knock-in of DNA cassettes into the zebrafish genome at a very high rate by homology-independent double strand break (DSB) repair pathways. After coinjection of a donor plasmid with a short guide RNA (sgRNA) and Cas9 nuclease mRNA, concurrent cleavage of donor plasmid DNA and the selected chromosomal integration site resulted in efficient targeted integration of donor DNA. We successfully employed this approach to convert eGFP into Gal4 transgenic lines and the same plasmids and sgRNAs can be applied in any species where eGFP lines were generated as part of enhancer and gene trap screens. In addition, we show the possibility to easily target DNA integration at endogenous loci, thus greatly facilitating the creation of reporter and loss of function alleles. Due to its simplicity, flexibility and very high efficiency, our method greatly expands the repertoire for genome editing in zebrafish and can be readily adapted to many other organisms.
Centromeres are key chromosomal landmarks important for chromosome segregation and are characterized by distinct chromatin features. The centromeric histone H3 variant, referred to as CENP-A or CenH3CENP-A in mammals, has emerged as a key determinant for centromeric structure, function and epigenetic inheritance. To regulate the correct incorporation and maintenance of histones at this locus, the cell employs an intricate network of molecular players, among which histone chaperones and chromatin remodelling factors have been identified over the past years. The mammalian centromere-specific chaperone HJURP represents an interesting paradigm to understand the functioning of this network. This review highlights and discusses the latest findings on centromeric histone H3 variant deposition and regulation to delineate the current view on centromere establishment, maintenance and propagation throughout the cell cycle. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Chromatin and epigenetic regulation of animal development, edited by Dr. Peter Verrijzer and Dr. Elissa Lei.
X chromosome inactivation is a remarkable example of chromosome-wide gene silencing and facultative heterochromatin formation. Numerous histone posttranslational modifications, including H3K9me2 and H3K27me3, accompany this process, although our understanding of the enzymes that lay down these marks and the factors that bind to them is still incomplete. Here we identify Cdyl, a chromodomain-containing transcriptional corepressor, as a new chromatin-associated protein partner of the inactive X chromosome (Xi). Using mouse embryonic stem cell lines with mutated histone methyltransferase activities, we show that Cdyl relies on H3K9me2 for its general association with chromatin in vivo. For its association with Xi, Cdyl requires the process of differentiation and the presence of H3K9me2 and H3K27me3, which both become chromosomally enriched following Xist RNA coating. We further show that the removal of the PRC2 component Eed and subsequent loss of H3K27me3 lead to a reduction of both Cdyl and H3K9me2 enrichment on inactive Xi. Finally, we show that Cdyl associates with the H3K9 histone methyltransferase G9a and the MGA protein, both of which are also found on Xi. We propose that the combination of H3K9me2 and H3K27me3 recruits Cdyl to Xi, and this, in turn, may facilitate propagation of the H3K9me2 mark by anchoring G9a.
The identity of mammary stem and progenitor cells remains poorly understood, mainly as a result of the lack of robust markers. The Notch signaling pathway has been implicated in mammary gland development as well as in tumorigenesis in this tissue. Elevated expression of the Notch3 receptor has been correlated to the highly aggressive “triple negative” human breast cancer. However, the specific cells expressing this Notch paralogue in the mammary gland remain unknown. Using a conditionally inducible Notch3-CreERT2SAT transgenic mouse, we genetically marked Notch3-expressing cells throughout mammary gland development and followed their lineage in vivo. We demonstrate that Notch3 is expressed in a highly clonogenic and transiently quiescent luminal progenitor population that gives rise to a ductal lineage. These cells are capable of surviving multiple successive pregnancies, suggesting a capacity to self-renew. Our results also uncover a role for the Notch3 receptor in restricting the proliferation and consequent clonal expansion of these cells.
Mitosis and meiosis are two distinct cell division programs. During mitosis, sister chromatids separate, whereas during the first meiotic division, homologous chromosomes pair and then segregate from each other. In most organisms, germ cells do both programs sequentially, as they first amplify through mitosis, before switching to meiosis to produce haploid gametes. Here, we show that autosomal chromosomes are unpaired at their centromeres in Drosophila germline stem cells, and become paired during the following four mitosis of the differentiating daughter cell. Surprisingly, we further demonstrate that components of the central region of the synaptonemal complex are already expressed in the mitotic region of the ovaries, localize close to centromeres, and promote de novo association of centromeres. Our results thus show that meiotic proteins and meiotic organization of centromeres, which are key features to ensure reductional segregation, are laid out in amplifying germ cells, before meiosis has started.
Animal development and lifetime potential exploit a balance between the stability and plasticity of cellular identity. Within the nucleus, this is controlled by an interplay involving lineage-specific transcription factors and chromatin dynamics. Histone H3 variants contribute to chromatin dynamics through the timing and sites of their incorporation, promoted by dedicated histone chaperones. Moreover, their individual modifications and binding partners provide distinct features at defined genomic loci. We highlight here the importance of the H3.3 replacement variant for the nuclear reprogramming that occurs during gametogenesis, fertilization, and germline establishment. Furthermore, we describe how the recently characterized H3.3 dynamics associated with gastrulation, myogenesis, or neurogenesis underline the role of chromatin changes in cell differentiation. Finally, we discuss the challenges of maintaining centromeric identity through propagation of the centromeric CenH3 variant in different cell types. Future challenges will be to gain a comprehensive picture of H3 variants and their chaperones during development and differentiation.
The early Drosophila embryo is an ideal model to understand the transcriptional regulation of well-defined patterns of gene expression in a developing organism. In this system, snapshots of transcription measurements obtained by RNA FISH on fixed samples cannot provide the temporal resolution needed to distinguish spatial heterogeneity from inherent noise. Here, we used the MS2-MCP system to visualize in living embryos nascent transcripts expressed from the canonical hunchback (hb) promoter under the control of Bicoid (Bcd). The hb-MS2 reporter is expressed as synchronously as endogenous hb in the anterior half of the embryo, but unlike hb it is also active in the posterior, though more heterogeneously and more transiently than in the anterior. The length and intensity of active transcription periods in the anterior are strongly reduced in absence of Bcd, whereas posterior ones are mostly Bcd independent. This posterior noisy signal decreases progressively through nuclear divisions, so that the MS2 reporter expression mimics the known anterior hb pattern at cellularization. We propose that the establishment of the hb pattern relies on Bcd-dependent lengthening of transcriptional activity periods in the anterior and may require two distinct repression mechanisms in the posterior.