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Transgenerational inheritance of centromere identity requires the CENP-A N-terminal tail in the C. elegans maternal germ line.
PLoS Biol, 2021 Jul; 19 (7): e3000968
Centromere protein A (CENP-A) is a histone H3 variant that defines centromeric chromatin and is essential for centromere function. In most eukaryotes, CENP-A-containing chromatin is epigenetically maintained, and centromere identity is inherited from one cell cycle to the next. In the germ line of the holocentric nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, this inheritance cycle is disrupted. CENP-A is removed at the mitosis-to-meiosis transition and is reestablished on chromatin during diplotene of meiosis I. Here, we show that the N-terminal tail of CENP-A is required for the de novo establishment of centromeres, but then its presence becomes dispensable for centromere maintenance during development. Worms homozygous for a CENP-A tail deletion maintain functional centromeres during development but give rise to inviable offspring because they fail to reestablish centromeres in the maternal germ line. We identify the N-terminal tail of CENP-A as a critical domain for the interaction with the conserved kinetochore protein KNL-2 and argue that this interaction plays an important role in setting centromere identity in the germ line. We conclude that centromere establishment and maintenance are functionally distinct in C. elegans.
Loss of histone H3.3 results in DNA replication defects and altered origin dynamics in C. elegans.
Genome Res, 2020 Dec; 30 (12): 1740-1751
Histone H3.3 is a replication-independent variant of histone H3 with important roles in development, differentiation, and fertility. Here, we show that loss of H3.3 results in replication defects in embryos at elevated temperatures. To characterize these defects, we adapt methods to determine replication timing, map replication origins, and examine replication fork progression. Our analysis of the spatiotemporal regulation of DNA replication shows that despite the very rapid embryonic cell cycle, the genome is replicated from early and late firing origins and is partitioned into domains of early and late replication. We find that under temperature stress conditions, additional replication origins become activated. Moreover, loss of H3.3 results in altered replication fork progression around origins, which is particularly evident at stress-activated origins. These replication defects are accompanied by replication checkpoint activation, a delayed cell cycle, and increased lethality in checkpoint-compromised embryos. Our comprehensive analysis of DNA replication in reveals the genomic location of replication origins and the dynamics of their firing, and uncovers a role of H3.3 in the regulation of replication origins under stress conditions.
H3.3K27M-induced chromatin changes drive ectopic replication through misregulation of the JNK pathway in C. elegans.
Nat Commun, 2019 Jun 7; 10 (1): 2529
Substitution of lysine 27 with methionine in histone H3.3 is a recently discovered driver mutation of pediatric high-grade gliomas. Mutant cells show decreased levels and altered distribution of H3K27 trimethylation (H3K27me3). How these chromatin changes are established genome-wide and lead to tumorigenesis remains unclear. Here we show that H3.3K27M-mediated alterations in H3K27me3 distribution result in ectopic DNA replication and cell cycle progression of germ cells in Caenorhabditis elegans. By genetically inducing changes in the H3.3 distribution, we demonstrate that both H3.3K27M and pre-existing H3K27me3 act locally and antagonistically on Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) in a concentration-dependent manner. The heterochromatin changes result in extensive gene misregulation, and genetic screening identified upregulation of JNK as an underlying cause of the germcell aberrations. Moreover, JNK inhibition suppresses the replicative fate in human tumor-derived H3.3K27M cells, thus establishing C. elegans as a powerful model for the identification of potential drug targets for treatment of H3.3K27M tumors.
Differential Expression of Histone H3.3 Genes and Their Role in Modulating Temperature Stress Response in Caenorhabditis elegans.
Genetics, 2018 Jun; 209 (2): 551-565
Replication-independent variant histones replace canonical histones in nucleosomes and act as important regulators of chromatin function. H3.3 is a major variant of histone H3 that is remarkably conserved across taxa and is distinguished from canonical H3 by just four key amino acids. Most genomes contain two or more genes expressing H3.3, and complete loss of the protein usually causes sterility or embryonic lethality. Here, we investigate the developmental expression patterns of the five H3.3 homologs and identify two previously uncharacterized homologs to be restricted to the germ line. Despite these specific expression patterns, we find that neither loss of individual H3.3 homologs nor the knockout of all five H3.3-coding genes causes sterility or lethality. However, we demonstrate an essential role for the conserved histone chaperone HIRA in the nucleosomal loading of all H3.3 variants. This requirement can be bypassed by mutation of the H3.3-specific residues to those found in H3. While even removal of all H3.3 homologs does not result in lethality, it leads to reduced fertility and viability in response to high-temperature stress. Thus, our results show that H3.3 is nonessential in but is critical for ensuring adequate response to stress.
Diversity in the organization of centromeric chromatin.
Curr Opin Genet Dev, 2015 Apr; 31 : 28-35
Centromeric chromatin is distinguished primarily by nucleosomes containing the histone variant cenH3, which organizes the kinetochore that links the chromosome to the spindle apparatus. Whereas budding yeast have simple 'point' centromeres with single cenH3 nucleosomes, and fission yeast have 'regional' centromeres without obvious sequence specificity, the centromeres of most organisms are embedded in highly repetitive 'satellite' DNA. Recent studies have revealed a remarkable diversity in centromere chromatin organization among different lineages, including some that have lost cenH3 altogether. We review recent progress in understanding point, regional and satellite centromeres, as well as less well-studied centromere types, such as holocentromeres. We also discuss the formation of neocentromeres, the role of pericentric heterochromatin, and the structure and composition of the cenH3 nucleosome.
Cell type-specific affinity purification of nuclei for chromatin profiling in whole animals.
Methods Mol Biol, 2015; 1228 : 3-14
Analyzing cell differentiation during development in a complex organism requires the analysis of expression and chromatin profiles in individual cell types. Our laboratory has developed a simple and generally applicable strategy to purify specific cell types from whole organisms for simultaneous analysis of chromatin and expression. The method, termed INTACT for Isolation of Nuclei TAgged in specific Cell Types, depends on the expression of an affinity-tagged nuclear envelope protein in the cell type of interest. These nuclei can be affinity-purified from the total pool of nuclei and used as a source for RNA and chromatin. The method serves as a simple and scalable alternative to FACS sorting or laser capture microscopy to circumvent the need for expensive equipment and specialized skills. This chapter provides detailed protocols for the cell-type specific purification of nuclei from Caenorhabditis elegans.
Holocentromeres are dispersed point centromeres localized at transcription factor hotspots.
Elife, 2014 Jan 1; 3 : e02025
Centromeres vary greatly in size and sequence composition, ranging from 'point' centromeres with a single cenH3-containing nucleosome to 'regional' centromeres embedded in tandemly repeated sequences to holocentromeres that extend along the length of entire chromosomes. Point centromeres are defined by sequence, whereas regional and holocentromeres are epigenetically defined by the location of cenH3-containing nucleosomes. In this study, we show that Caenorhabditis elegans holocentromeres are organized as dispersed but discretely localized point centromeres, each forming a single cenH3-containing nucleosome. These centromeric sites co-localize with kinetochore components, and their occupancy is dependent on the cenH3 loading machinery. These sites coincide with non-specific binding sites for multiple transcription factors ('HOT' sites), which become occupied when cenH3 is lost. Our results show that the point centromere is the basic unit of holocentric organization in support of the classical polycentric model for holocentromeres, and provide a mechanistic basis for understanding how centromeric chromatin might be maintained. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.02025.001.
Cell-type-specific nuclei purification from whole animals for genome-wide expression and chromatin profiling.
Genome Res, 2012 Apr; 22 (4): 766-777
An understanding of developmental processes requires knowledge of transcriptional and epigenetic landscapes at the level of tissues and ultimately individual cells. However, obtaining tissue- or cell-type-specific expression and chromatin profiles for animals has been challenging. Here we describe a method for purifying nuclei from specific cell types of animal models that allows simultaneous determination of both expression and chromatin profiles. The method is based on in vivo biotin-labeling of the nuclear envelope and subsequent affinity purification of nuclei. We describe the use of the method to isolate nuclei from muscle of adult Caenorhabditis elegans and from mesoderm of Drosophila melanogaster embryos. As a case study, we determined expression and nucleosome occupancy profiles for affinity-purified nuclei from C. elegans muscle. We identified hundreds of genes that are specifically expressed in muscle tissues and found that these genes are depleted of nucleosomes at promoters and gene bodies in muscle relative to other tissues. This method should be universally applicable to all model systems that allow transgenesis and will make it possible to determine epigenetic and expression profiles of different tissues and cell types.
MicroRNA-directed siRNA biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans.
PLoS Genet, 2010 Apr 8; 6 (4): e1000903
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional silencing process, triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), leading to the destabilization of homologous mRNAs. A distinction has been made between endogenous RNAi-related pathways and the exogenous RNAi pathway, the latter being essential for the experimental use of RNAi. Previous studies have shown that, in Caenorhabditis elegans, a complex containing the enzymes Dicer and the Argonaute RDE-1 process dsRNA. Dicer is responsible for cleaving dsRNA into short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) while RDE-1 acts as the siRNA acceptor. RDE-1 then guides a multi-protein complex to homologous targets to trigger mRNA destabilization. However, endogenous role(s) for RDE-1, if any, have remained unexplored. We here show that RDE-1 functions as a scavenger protein, taking up small RNA molecules from many different sources, including the microRNA (miRNA) pathway. This is in striking contrast to Argonaute proteins functioning directly in the miRNA pathway, ALG-1 and ALG-2: these proteins exclusively bind miRNAs. While playing no significant role in the biogenesis of the main pool of miRNAs, RDE-1 binds endogenous miRNAs and triggers RdRP activity on at least one perfectly matching, endogenous miRNA target. The resulting secondary siRNAs are taken up by a set of Argonaute proteins known to act as siRNA acceptors in exogenous RNAi, resulting in strong mRNA destabilization. Our results show that RDE-1 in an endogenous setting is actively screening the transcriptome using many different small RNAs, including miRNAs, as a guide, with implications for the evolution of transcripts with a potential to be recognized by Dicer.
RDE-1 slicer activity is required only for passenger-strand cleavage during RNAi in Caenorhabditis elegans.
Nat Struct Mol Biol, 2009 Feb; 16 (2): 207-211
RNA interference (RNAi) is a process in which double-stranded RNA is cleaved into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that induce the destruction of homologous single-stranded mRNAs. Argonaute proteins are essential components of this silencing process; they bind siRNAs directly and can cleave RNA targets using a conserved RNase H motif. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the Argonaute protein RDE-1 has a central role in RNAi. In animals lacking RDE-1, the introduction of double-stranded RNA does not trigger any detectable level of RNAi. Here we show that RNase H activity of RDE-1 is required only for efficient removal of the passenger strand of the siRNA duplex and not for triggering the silencing response at the target-mRNA level. These results uncouple the role of the RDE-1 RNase H activity in small RNA maturation from its role in target-mRNA silencing in vivo.
Structural features of small RNA precursors determine Argonaute loading in Caenorhabditis elegans.
Nat Struct Mol Biol, 2007 Oct; 14 (10): 927-933
In C. elegans, DCR-1 is required for the maturation of both short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs), which are subsequently loaded into different Argonaute proteins to mediate silencing via distinct mechanisms. We used in vivo analyses to show that precursors of small RNAs contain structural features that direct the small RNAs into the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway or the miRNA-processing pathway. Nucleotide changes in the pre-let-7 miRNA precursor that make its stem fully complementary cause the resulting small RNA to be recognized as siRNA and induce binding to RDE-1, which leads to RNAi. Mismatches of 1 to 3 nucleotides at various positions in the stem of the precursor restore direction into the miRNA pathway, as the largest portion of such small RNA variants is associated with ALG-1. The Argonaute proteins to which the small RNAs are bound determine the silencing mode, and no functional overlap between RDE-1 and ALG-1 was detected.
Knocking out the Argonautes.
Cell, 2006 Nov 17; 127 (4): 667-668
Argonaute proteins are key players in gene silencing involving small RNAs. In this issue, Yigit et al. (2006) report a comprehensive study of Argonautes in the worm that places many of the 27 family members into a complex gene-silencing network.
Cloning and expression of new microRNAs from zebrafish.
Nucleic Acids Res, 2006; 34 (9): 2558-2569
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play an important role in development and regulate the expression of many animal genes by post-transcriptional gene silencing. Here we describe the cloning and expression of new miRNAs from zebrafish. By high-throughput sequencing of small-RNA cDNA libraries from 5-day-old zebrafish larvae and adult zebrafish brain we found 139 known miRNAs and 66 new miRNAs. For 65 known miRNAs and for 11 new miRNAs we also cloned the miRNA star sequence. We analyzed the temporal and spatial expression patterns for 35 new miRNAs and for 32 known miRNAs in the zebrafish by whole mount in situ hybridization and northern blotting. Overall, 23 of the 35 new miRNAs and 30 of the 32 known miRNAs could be detected. We found that most miRNAs were expressed during later stages of development. Some were expressed ubiquitously, but many of the miRNAs were expressed in a tissue-specific manner. Most newly discovered miRNAs have low expression levels and are less conserved in other vertebrate species. Our cloning and expression analysis indicates that most abundant and conserved miRNAs in zebrafish are now known.