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Journal: Genes & development


Hair differentiates from follicle stem cells through progenitor cells in the matrix. In contrast to stem cells in the bulge, the identities of the progenitors and the mechanisms by which they regulate hair shaft components are poorly understood. Hair is also pigmented by melanocytes in the follicle. However, the niche that regulates follicular melanocytes is not well characterized. Here, we report the identification of hair shaft progenitors in the matrix that are differentiated from follicular epithelial cells expressing transcription factor KROX20. Depletion of Krox20 lineage cells results in arrest of hair growth, confirming the critical role of KROX20(+) cells as antecedents of structural cells found in hair. Expression of stem cell factor (SCF) by these cells is necessary for the maintenance of differentiated melanocytes and for hair pigmentation. Our findings reveal the identities of hair matrix progenitors that regulate hair growth and pigmentation, partly by creating an SCF-dependent niche for follicular melanocytes.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene expression, Developmental biology, Cell division, Stem cell, Cell biology, Cellular differentiation


Tight control over the segregation of endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm is essential for normal embryonic development of all species, yet how neighboring embryonic blastomeres can contribute to different germ layers has never been fully explained. We postulated that microRNAs, which fine-tune many biological processes, might modulate the response of embryonic blastomeres to growth factors and other signals that govern germ layer fate. A systematic screen of a whole-genome microRNA library revealed that the let-7 and miR-18 families increase mesoderm at the expense of endoderm in mouse embryonic stem cells. Both families are expressed in ectoderm and mesoderm, but not endoderm, as these tissues become distinct during mouse and frog embryogenesis. Blocking let-7 function in vivo dramatically affected cell fate, diverting presumptive mesoderm and ectoderm into endoderm. siRNA knockdown of computationally predicted targets followed by mutational analyses revealed that let-7 and miR-18 down-regulate Acvr1b and Smad2, respectively, to attenuate Nodal responsiveness and bias blastomeres to ectoderm and mesoderm fates. These findings suggest a crucial role for the let-7 and miR-18 families in germ layer specification and reveal a remarkable conservation of function from amphibians to mammals.

Concepts: Embryo, Developmental biology, Mesoderm, Embryology, Endoderm, Embryogenesis, Germ layer, Organogenesis


Monoubiquitination of histone H2B on Lys 123 (H2BK123ub) is a transient histone modification considered to be essential for establishing H3K4 and H3K79 trimethylation by Set1/COMPASS and Dot1, respectively. Here, we identified Chd1 as a factor that is required for the maintenance of high levels of H2B monoubiquitination, but not for H3K4 and H3K79 trimethylation. Loss of Chd1 results in a substantial loss of H2BK123ub levels with little to no effect on the genome-wide pattern of H3K4 and H3K79 trimethylation. Our data show that nucleosomal occupancy is reduced in gene bodies in both chd1Δ and, as has been shown, K123A mutant backgrounds. We also demonstrated that Chd1’s function in maintaining H2BK123ub levels is conserved from yeast to humans. Our study provides evidence that only small levels of H2BK123ub are necessary for full levels of H3K4 and H3K79 trimethylation in vivo and points to a possible role for Chd1 in positively regulating gene expression through promoting nucleosome reassembly coupled with H2B monoubiquitination.

Concepts: DNA, Histone, Nucleosome, Histone H2B, Histone H3, Histone H4, Histone H2A, Histone H1


Post-transcriptional gene regulation is prevalent in the nervous system, where multiple tiers of regulatory complexity contribute to the development and function of highly specialized cell types. Whole-genome studies in Drosophila have identified several hundred genes containing long 3' extensions in neural tissues. We show that ELAV (embryonic-lethal abnormal visual system) is a key mediator of these neural-specific extensions. Misexpression of ELAV results in the ectopic synthesis of long messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in transgenic embryos. RNA immunoprecipitation assays suggest that ELAV directly binds the proximal polyadenylation signals of many target mRNAs. Finally, ELAV is sufficient to suppress 3' end formation at a strong polyadenylation signal when tethered to a synthetic RNA. We propose that this mechanism for coordinating 3' UTR extension may be generally used in a variety of cellular processes.

Concepts: Nervous system, DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Brain, RNA, Messenger RNA, Three prime untranslated region


Gene expression is regulated by promoters, which initiate transcription, and enhancers, which control their temporal and spatial activity. However, the discovery that mammalian enhancers also initiate transcription questions the inherent differences between enhancers and promoters. Here, we investigate the transcriptional properties of enhancers during Drosophila embryogenesis using characterized developmental enhancers. We show that while the timing of enhancer transcription is generally correlated with enhancer activity, the levels and directionality of transcription are highly varied among active enhancers. To assess how this impacts function, we developed a dual transgenic assay to simultaneously measure enhancer and promoter activities from a single element in the same embryo. Extensive transgenic analysis revealed a relationship between the direction of endogenous transcription and the ability to function as an enhancer or promoter in vivo, although enhancer RNA (eRNA) production and activity are not always strictly coupled. Some enhancers (mainly bidirectional) can act as weak promoters, producing overlapping spatio-temporal expression. Conversely, bidirectional promoters often act as strong enhancers, while unidirectional promoters generally cannot. The balance between enhancer and promoter activity is generally reflected in the levels and directionality of eRNA transcription and is likely an inherent sequence property of the elements themselves.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Promoter, Transcription, Transcription factor, RNA polymerase, Enhancer


Medulloblastoma is the most common solid primary brain tumor in children. Remarkable advancements in the understanding of the genetic and epigenetic basis of these tumors have informed their recent molecular classification. However, the genotype/phenotype correlation of the subgroups remains largely uncharacterized. In particular, the metabolic phenotype is of great interest because of its druggability, which could lead to the development of novel and more tailored therapies for a subset of medulloblastoma. p73 plays a critical role in a range of cellular metabolic processes. We show overexpression of p73 in a proportion of non-WNT medulloblastoma. In these tumors, p73 sustains cell growth and proliferation via regulation of glutamine metabolism. We validated our results in a xenograft model in which we observed an increase in survival time in mice on a glutamine restriction diet. Notably, glutamine starvation has a synergistic effect with cisplatin, a component of the current medulloblastoma chemotherapy. These findings raise the possibility that glutamine depletion can be used as an adjuvant treatment for p73-expressing medulloblastoma.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Cancer, Bacteria, Oncology, Metabolism, Nutrition, Brain tumor


Vernalization, the promotion of flowering by cold, involves Polycomb-mediated epigenetic silencing of FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC). Cold progressively promotes cell-autonomous switching to a silenced state. Here, we used live-cell imaging of FLC-lacO to monitor changes in nuclear organization during vernalization. FLC-lacO alleles physically cluster during the cold and generally remain so after plants are returned to warm. Clustering is dependent on the Polycomb trans-factors necessary for establishment of the FLC silenced state but not on LIKE HETEROCHROMATIN PROTEIN 1, which functions to maintain silencing. These data support the view that physical clustering may be a common feature of Polycomb-mediated epigenetic switching mechanisms.

Concepts: Gene, Epigenetics, Plant physiology, Flower, Cold War, The Promotion, Heterochromatin protein 1


Various tumors develop addiction to glutamine to support uncontrolled cell proliferation. Here we identify the nuclear receptor liver receptor homolog 1 (LRH-1) as a key regulator in the process of hepatic tumorigenesis through the coordination of a noncanonical glutamine pathway that is reliant on the mitochondrial and cytosolic transaminases glutamate pyruvate transaminase 2 (GPT2) and glutamate oxaloacetate transaminase 1 (GOT1), which fuel anabolic metabolism. In particular, we show that gain and loss of function of hepatic LRH-1 modulate the expression and activity of mitochondrial glutaminase 2 (GLS2), the first and rate-limiting step of this pathway. Acute and chronic deletion of hepatic LRH-1 blunts the deamination of glutamine and reduces glutamine-dependent anaplerosis. The robust reduction in glutaminolysis and the limiting availability of α-ketoglutarate in turn inhibit mTORC1 signaling to eventually block cell growth and proliferation. Collectively, these studies highlight the importance of LRH-1 in coordinating glutamine-induced metabolism and signaling to promote hepatocellular carcinogenesis.

Concepts: DNA, Cell, Cancer, Bacteria, Amino acid, Signal transduction, Metabolism, Anabolism


An open and decondensed chromatin organization is a defining property of pluripotency. Several epigenetic regulators have been implicated in maintaining an open chromatin organization, but how these processes are connected to the pluripotency network is unknown. Here, we identified a new role for the transcription factor NANOG as a key regulator connecting the pluripotency network with constitutive heterochromatin organization in mouse embryonic stem cells. Deletion of Nanog leads to chromatin compaction and the remodeling of heterochromatin domains. Forced expression of NANOG in epiblast stem cells is sufficient to decompact chromatin. NANOG associates with satellite repeats within heterochromatin domains, contributing to an architecture characterized by highly dispersed chromatin fibers, low levels of H3K9me3, and high major satellite transcription, and the strong transactivation domain of NANOG is required for this organization. The heterochromatin-associated protein SALL1 is a direct cofactor for NANOG, and loss of Sall1 recapitulates the Nanog-null phenotype, but the loss of Sall1 can be circumvented through direct recruitment of the NANOG transactivation domain to major satellites. These results establish a direct connection between the pluripotency network and chromatin organization and emphasize that maintaining an open heterochromatin architecture is a highly regulated process in embryonic stem cells.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Archaea, Stem cell, Embryonic stem cell, Chromatin


During spermatogenesis, a large number of germline genes essential for male fertility are coordinately activated. However, it remains unknown how timely activation of this group of germline genes is accomplished. Here we show that Polycomb-repressive complex 1 (PRC1) directs timely activation of germline genes during spermatogenesis. Inactivation of PRC1 in male germ cells results in the gradual loss of a stem cell population and severe differentiation defects, leading to male infertility. In the stem cell population, RNF2, the dominant catalytic subunit of PRC1, activates transcription of Sall4, which codes for a transcription factor essential for subsequent spermatogenic differentiation. Furthermore, RNF2 and SALL4 together occupy transcription start sites of germline genes in the stem cell population. Once differentiation commences, these germline genes are activated to enable the progression of spermatogenesis. Our study identifies a novel mechanism by which Polycomb directs the developmental process by activating a group of lineage-specific genes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Developmental biology, Meiosis, Puberty, Germ cell