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Title: Local chromatin context regulates the genetic requirements of the heterochromatin spreading reaction
Heterochromatin spreading, the expansion of repressive chromatin structure from sequence-specific nucleation sites, is critical for stable gene silencing. Spreading re-establishes gene-poor constitutive heterochromatin across cell cycles but can also invade gene-rich euchromatin de novo to steer cell fate decisions. How chromatin context (i.e. euchromatic, heterochromatic) or different nucleation pathways influence heterochromatin spreading remains poorly understood. Previously, we developed a single-cell sensor in fission yeast that can separately record heterochromatic gene silencing at nucleation sequences and distal sites. Here we couple our quantitative assay to a genetic screen to identify genes encoding nuclear factors linked to the regulation of heterochromatin nucleation and the distal spreading of gene silencing. We find that mechanisms underlying gene silencing distal to a nucleation site differ by chromatin context. For example, Clr6 histone deacetylase complexes containing the Fkh2 transcription factor are specifically required for heterochromatin spreading at constitutive sites. Fkh2 recruits Clr6 to nucleation-distal chromatin sites in such contexts. In addition, we find that a number of chromatin remodeling complexes antagonize nucleation-distal gene silencing. Our results separate the regulation of heterochromatic gene silencing at nucleation versus distal sites and show that it is controlled by context-dependent mechanisms. The results of our genetic analysis constitute a broad more » community resource that will support further analysis of the mechanisms underlying the spread of epigenetic silencing along chromatin. « less
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van Steensel, Bas
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PLOS Genetics
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    Heterochromatic gene silencing relies on combinatorial control by specific histone modifications, the occurrence of transcription, and/or RNA degradation. Once nucleated, heterochromatin propagates within defined chromosomal regions and is maintained throughout cell divisions to warrant proper genome expression and integrity. In the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, the Ccr4-Not complex partakes in gene silencing, but its relative contribution to distinct heterochromatin domains and its role in nucleation versus spreading have remained elusive. Here, we unveil major functions for Ccr4-Not in silencing and heterochromatin spreading at the mating type locus and subtelomeres. Mutations of the catalytic subunits Caf1 or Mot2, involved in RNA deadenylation and protein ubiquitinylation, respectively, result in impaired propagation of H3K9me3 and massive accumulation of nucleation-distal heterochromatic transcripts. Both silencing and spreading defects are suppressed upon disruption of the heterochromatin antagonizing factor Epe1. Overall, our results position the Ccr4-Not complex as a critical, dual regulator of heterochromatic gene silencing and spreading.

  2. INTRODUCTION Diverse phenotypes, including large brains relative to body size, group living, and vocal learning ability, have evolved multiple times throughout mammalian history. These shared phenotypes may have arisen repeatedly by means of common mechanisms discernible through genome comparisons. RATIONALE Protein-coding sequence differences have failed to fully explain the evolution of multiple mammalian phenotypes. This suggests that these phenotypes have evolved at least in part through changes in gene expression, meaning that their differences across species may be caused by differences in genome sequence at enhancer regions that control gene expression in specific tissues and cell types. Yet the enhancers involved in phenotype evolution are largely unknown. Sequence conservation–based approaches for identifying such enhancers are limited because enhancer activity can be conserved even when the individual nucleotides within the sequence are poorly conserved. This is due to an overwhelming number of cases where nucleotides turn over at a high rate, but a similar combination of transcription factor binding sites and other sequence features can be maintained across millions of years of evolution, allowing the function of the enhancer to be conserved in a particular cell type or tissue. Experimentally measuring the function of orthologous enhancers across dozens of species ismore »currently infeasible, but new machine learning methods make it possible to make reliable sequence-based predictions of enhancer function across species in specific tissues and cell types. RESULTS To overcome the limits of studying individual nucleotides, we developed the Tissue-Aware Conservation Inference Toolkit (TACIT). Rather than measuring the extent to which individual nucleotides are conserved across a region, TACIT uses machine learning to test whether the function of a given part of the genome is likely to be conserved. More specifically, convolutional neural networks learn the tissue- or cell type–specific regulatory code connecting genome sequence to enhancer activity using candidate enhancers identified from only a few species. This approach allows us to accurately associate differences between species in tissue or cell type–specific enhancer activity with genome sequence differences at enhancer orthologs. We then connect these predictions of enhancer function to phenotypes across hundreds of mammals in a way that accounts for species’ phylogenetic relatedness. We applied TACIT to identify candidate enhancers from motor cortex and parvalbumin neuron open chromatin data that are associated with brain size relative to body size, solitary living, and vocal learning across 222 mammals. Our results include the identification of multiple candidate enhancers associated with brain size relative to body size, several of which are located in linear or three-dimensional proximity to genes whose protein-coding mutations have been implicated in microcephaly or macrocephaly in humans. We also identified candidate enhancers associated with the evolution of solitary living near a gene implicated in separation anxiety and other enhancers associated with the evolution of vocal learning ability. We obtained distinct results for bulk motor cortex and parvalbumin neurons, demonstrating the value in applying TACIT to both bulk tissue and specific minority cell type populations. To facilitate future analyses of our results and applications of TACIT, we released predicted enhancer activity of >400,000 candidate enhancers in each of 222 mammals and their associations with the phenotypes we investigated. CONCLUSION TACIT leverages predicted enhancer activity conservation rather than nucleotide-level conservation to connect genetic sequence differences between species to phenotypes across large numbers of mammals. TACIT can be applied to any phenotype with enhancer activity data available from at least a few species in a relevant tissue or cell type and a whole-genome alignment available across dozens of species with substantial phenotypic variation. Although we developed TACIT for transcriptional enhancers, it could also be applied to genomic regions involved in other components of gene regulation, such as promoters and splicing enhancers and silencers. As the number of sequenced genomes grows, machine learning approaches such as TACIT have the potential to help make sense of how conservation of, or changes in, subtle genome patterns can help explain phenotype evolution. Tissue-Aware Conservation Inference Toolkit (TACIT) associates genetic differences between species with phenotypes. TACIT works by generating open chromatin data from a few species in a tissue related to a phenotype, using the sequences underlying open and closed chromatin regions to train a machine learning model for predicting tissue-specific open chromatin and associating open chromatin predictions across dozens of mammals with the phenotype. [Species silhouettes are from PhyloPic]« less
  3. Freitag, M (Ed.)
    Abstract Heterochromatin, a transcriptionally silenced chromatin domain, is important for genome stability and gene expression. Histone 3 lysine 9 methylation (H3K9me) and histone hypoacetylation are conserved epigenetic hallmarks of heterochromatin. In fission yeast, RNA interference (RNAi) plays a key role in H3K9 methylation and heterochromatin silencing. However, how RNAi machinery and histone deacetylases (HDACs) are coordinated to ensure proper heterochromatin assembly is still unclear. Previously, we showed that Dpb4, a conserved DNA polymerase epsilon subunit, plays a key role in the recruitment of HDACs to heterochromatin during S phase. Here, we identified a novel RNA-binding protein Dri1 that interacts with Dpb4. GFP-tagged Dri1 forms distinct foci mostly in the nucleus, showing a high degree of colocalization with Swi6/Heterochromatin Protein 1. Deletion of dri1+ leads to defects in silencing, H3K9me, and heterochromatic siRNA generation. We also showed that Dri1 physically associates with heterochromatic transcripts, and is required for the recruitment of the RNA-induced transcriptional silencing (RITS) complex via interacting with the complex. Furthermore, loss of Dri1 decreases the association of the Sir2 HDAC with heterochromatin. We further demonstrated that the C-terminus of Dri1 that includes an intrinsically disordered (IDR) region and three zinc fingers is crucial for its role in silencing.more »Together, our evidences suggest that Dri1 facilitates heterochromatin assembly via the RNAi pathway and HDAC.« less
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  5. Kaplan, C D (Ed.)
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