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Journal: Nature cell biology


Remodelling of the human embryo at implantation is indispensable for successful pregnancy. Yet it has remained mysterious because of the experimental hurdles that beset the study of this developmental phase. Here, we establish an in vitro system to culture human embryos through implantation stages in the absence of maternal tissues and reveal the key events of early human morphogenesis. These include segregation of the pluripotent embryonic and extra-embryonic lineages, and morphogenetic rearrangements leading to generation of a bilaminar disc, formation of a pro-amniotic cavity within the embryonic lineage, appearance of the prospective yolk sac, and trophoblast differentiation. Using human embryos and human pluripotent stem cells, we show that the reorganization of the embryonic lineage is mediated by cellular polarization leading to cavity formation. Together, our results indicate that the critical remodelling events at this stage of human development are embryo-autonomous, highlighting the remarkable and unanticipated self-organizing properties of human embryos.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Embryo, Fetus, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Cellular differentiation, Embryology, Developmental psychology


A central goal of regenerative medicine is to generate transplantable organs from cells derived or expanded in vitro. Although numerous studies have demonstrated the production of defined cell types in vitro, the creation of a fully intact organ has not been reported. The transcription factor forkhead box N1 (FOXN1) is critically required for development of thymic epithelial cells (TECs), a key cell type of the thymic stroma. Here, we show that enforced Foxn1 expression is sufficient to reprogramme fibroblasts into functional TECs, an unrelated cell type across a germ-layer boundary. These FOXN1-induced TECs (iTECs) supported efficient development of both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells in vitro. On transplantation, iTECs established a complete, fully organized and functional thymus, that contained all of the TEC subtypes required to support T-cell differentiation and populated the recipient immune system with T cells. iTECs thus demonstrate that cellular reprogramming approaches can be used to generate an entire organ, and open the possibility of widespread use of thymus transplantation to boost immune function in patients.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene expression, Cell, Developmental biology, Major histocompatibility complex, Organ transplant, Thymus


It is well accepted that cancers co-opt the microenvironment for their growth. However, the molecular mechanisms that underlie cancer-microenvironment interactions are still poorly defined. Here, we show that Rho-associated kinase (ROCK) in the mammary tumour epithelium selectively actuates protein-kinase-R-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK), causing the recruitment and persistent education of tumour-promoting cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), which are part of the cancer microenvironment. An analysis of tumours from patients and mice reveals that cysteine-rich with EGF-like domains 2 (CRELD2) is the paracrine factor that underlies PERK-mediated CAF education downstream of ROCK. We find that CRELD2 is regulated by PERK-regulated ATF4, and depleting CRELD2 suppressed tumour progression, demonstrating that the paracrine ROCK-PERK-ATF4-CRELD2 axis promotes the progression of breast cancer, with implications for cancer therapy.


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations cause inherited diseases and are implicated in the pathogenesis of common late-onset disorders, but how they arise is not clear1,2. Here we show that mtDNA mutations are present in primordial germ cells (PGCs) within healthy female human embryos. Isolated PGCs have a profound reduction in mtDNA content, with discrete mitochondria containing ~5 mtDNA molecules. Single-cell deep mtDNA sequencing of in vivo human female PGCs showed rare variants reaching higher heteroplasmy levels in late PGCs, consistent with the observed genetic bottleneck. We also saw the signature of selection against non-synonymous protein-coding, tRNA gene and D-loop variants, concomitant with a progressive upregulation of genes involving mtDNA replication and transcription, and linked to a transition from glycolytic to oxidative metabolism. The associated metabolic shift would expose deleterious mutations to selection during early germ cell development, preventing the relentless accumulation of mtDNA mutations in the human population predicted by Muller’s ratchet. Mutations escaping this mechanism will show shifts in heteroplasmy levels within one human generation, explaining the extreme phenotypic variation seen in human pedigrees with inherited mtDNA disorders.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell, Evolution, Adenosine triphosphate, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA


Compaction of the preimplantation embryo is the earliest morphogenetic process essential for mammalian development, yet it remains unclear how round cells elongate to form a compacted embryo. Here, using live mouse embryo imaging, we demonstrate that cells extend long E-cadherin-dependent filopodia on to neighbouring cells, which control the cell shape changes necessary for compaction. We found that filopodia extension is tightly coordinated with cell elongation, whereas retraction occurs before cells become round again before dividing. Laser-based ablations revealed that filopodia are required to maintain elongated cell shapes. Moreover, molecular disruption of the filopodia components E-cadherin, α- and β-catenin, F-actin and myosin-X prevents cells from elongating and compacting the embryo. Finally, we show that early filopodia formation triggered by overexpressing myosin-X is sufficient to induce premature compaction. Our findings establish a role for filopodia during preimplantation embryonic development and provide an in vivo context to investigate the biological functions of filopodia in mammals.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Embryo, Developmental biology, Cell biology, Mammal, Compact space


Altered DNA methylation and associated destabilization of genome integrity and function is a hallmark of cancer. Replicative senescence is a tumour suppressor process that imposes a limit on the proliferative potential of normal cells that all cancer cells must bypass. Here we show by whole-genome single-nucleotide bisulfite sequencing that replicative senescent human cells exhibit widespread DNA hypomethylation and focal hypermethylation. Hypomethylation occurs preferentially at gene-poor, late-replicating, lamin-associated domains and is linked to mislocalization of the maintenance DNA methyltransferase (DNMT1) in cells approaching senescence. Low-level gains of methylation are enriched in CpG islands, including at genes whose methylation and silencing is thought to promote cancer. Gains and losses of methylation in replicative senescence are thus qualitatively similar to those in cancer, and this ‘reprogrammed’ methylation landscape is largely retained when cells bypass senescence. Consequently, the DNA methylome of senescent cells might promote malignancy, if these cells escape the proliferative barrier.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Cancer, Epigenetics, Cell division, DNA methylation, Methylation, DNA methyltransferase


Melanoma originates in the epidermis and becomes metastatic after invasion into the dermis. Prior interactions between melanoma cells and dermis are poorly studied. Here, we show that melanoma cells directly affect the formation of the dermal tumour niche by microRNA trafficking before invasion. Melanocytes, cells of melanoma origin, are specialized in releasing pigment vesicles, termed melanosomes. In melanoma in situ, we found melanosome markers in distal fibroblasts before melanoma invasion. The melanosomes carry microRNAs into primary fibroblasts triggering changes, including increased proliferation, migration and pro-inflammatory gene expression, all known features of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Specifically, melanosomal microRNA-211 directly targets IGF2R and leads to MAPK signalling activation, which reciprocally encourages melanoma growth. Melanosome release inhibitor prevented CAF formation. Since the first interaction of melanoma cells with blood vessels occurs in the dermis, our data suggest an opportunity to block melanoma invasion by preventing the formation of the dermal tumour niche.

Concepts: Gene, Messenger RNA, Melanoma, Skin, Melanin, Epidermis, Skin anatomy, Melanocyte


Fuelled by the obesity epidemic, there is considerable interest in the developmental origins of white adipose tissue (WAT) and the stem and progenitor cells from which it arises. Whereas increased visceral fat mass is associated with metabolic dysfunction, increased subcutaneous WAT is protective. There are six visceral fat depots: perirenal, gonadal, epicardial, retroperitoneal, omental and mesenteric, and it is a subject of much debate whether these have a common developmental origin and whether this differs from that for subcutaneous WAT. Here we show that all six visceral WAT depots receive a significant contribution from cells expressing Wt1 late in gestation. Conversely, no subcutaneous WAT or brown adipose tissue arises from Wt1-expressing cells. Postnatally, a subset of visceral WAT continues to arise from Wt1-expressing cells, consistent with the finding that Wt1 marks a proportion of cell populations enriched in WAT progenitors. We show that all visceral fat depots have a mesothelial layer like the visceral organs with which they are associated, and provide several lines of evidence that Wt1-expressing mesothelium can produce adipocytes. These results reveal a major ontogenetic difference between visceral and subcutaneous WAT, and pinpoint the lateral plate mesoderm as a major source of visceral WAT. They also support the notion that visceral WAT progenitors are heterogeneous, and suggest that mesothelium is a source of adipocytes.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Obesity, Fat, Adipose tissue, Tissues, Adipocyte, Brown adipose tissue, White adipose tissue


Subcellular localization is emerging as an important mechanism for mTORC1 regulation. We report that the tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) signalling node, TSC1, TSC2 and Rheb, localizes to peroxisomes, where it regulates mTORC1 in response to reactive oxygen species (ROS). TSC1 and TSC2 were bound by peroxisomal biogenesis factors 19 and 5 (PEX19 and PEX5), respectively, and peroxisome-localized TSC functioned as a Rheb GTPase-activating protein (GAP) to suppress mTORC1 and induce autophagy. Naturally occurring pathogenic mutations in TSC2 decreased PEX5 binding, and abrogated peroxisome localization, Rheb GAP activity and suppression of mTORC1 by ROS. Cells lacking peroxisomes were deficient in mTORC1 repression by ROS, and peroxisome-localization-deficient TSC2 mutants caused polarity defects and formation of multiple axons in neurons. These data identify a role for the TSC in responding to ROS at the peroxisome, and identify the peroxisome as a signalling organelle involved in regulation of mTORC1.

Concepts: Cell, Eukaryote, Mitochondrion, Reactive oxygen species, Tuberous sclerosis, Peroxisome, TSC2, TSC1


Brown adipose tissue is intensively researched owing to its role in regulating energy and glucose homeostasis. Its differentiation is controlled through adrenergic-dependent regulation of the transcriptional co-regulator Prdm16. Adrenergic stimulation inhibits expression of miR-133a/b in a Mef2c-dependent manner to abrogate post-transcriptional silencing of Prdm16.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Muscle, Cellular differentiation, Adipose tissue, Tissues, Brown adipose tissue, White adipose tissue