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1.  Dynamic Chromatin Organization during Foregut Development Mediated by the Organ Selector Gene PHA-4/FoxA 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(8):e1001060.
Central regulators of cell fate, or selector genes, establish the identity of cells by direct regulation of large cohorts of genes. In Caenorhabditis elegans, foregut (or pharynx) identity relies on the FoxA transcription factor PHA-4, which activates different sets of target genes at various times and in diverse cellular environments. An outstanding question is how PHA-4 distinguishes between target genes for appropriate transcriptional control. We have used the Nuclear Spot Assay and GFP reporters to examine PHA-4 interactions with target promoters in living embryos and with single cell resolution. While PHA-4 was found throughout the digestive tract, binding and activation of pharyngeally expressed promoters was restricted to a subset of pharyngeal cells and excluded from the intestine. An RNAi screen of candidate nuclear factors identified emerin (emr-1) as a negative regulator of PHA-4 binding within the pharynx, but emr-1 did not modulate PHA-4 binding in the intestine. Upon promoter association, PHA-4 induced large-scale chromatin de-compaction, which, we hypothesize, may facilitate promoter access and productive transcription. Our results reveal two tiers of PHA-4 regulation. PHA-4 binding is prohibited in intestinal cells, preventing target gene expression in that organ. PHA-4 binding within the pharynx is limited by the nuclear lamina component EMR-1/emerin. The data suggest that association of PHA-4 with its targets is a regulated step that contributes to promoter selectivity during organ formation. We speculate that global re-organization of chromatin architecture upon PHA-4 binding promotes competence of pharyngeal gene transcription and, by extension, foregut development.
Author Summary
Central regulators of cell fate establish the identity of cells by direct regulation of large cohorts of genes. In Caenorhabditis elegans, foregut (or pharynx) identity relies on the FoxA transcription factor PHA-4, which activates different target genes in different cellular environments. An outstanding question is how PHA-4 distinguishes between target genes for appropriate transcriptional control. Here we examine PHA-4 interactions with target promoters in living embryos and with single-cell resolution. While PHA-4 was found throughout the digestive tract, binding and activation of pharyngeally expressed promoters was restricted to a subset of pharyngeal cells and excluded from the intestine. An RNAi screen identified emerin (emr-1) as a negative regulator of PHA-4 binding within the pharynx. Upon promoter association, PHA-4 induced large-scale chromatin de-compaction, which, we hypothesize, facilitates promoter access. Our results reveal two tiers of PHA-4 regulation. PHA-4 binding is prohibited in intestinal cells and is limited in the pharynx by the nuclear lamina component EMR-1/emerin. The data suggest that association of PHA-4 with its targets is a regulated step that contributes to promoter selectivity during organ formation. We speculate that global re-organization of chromatin architecture upon PHA-4 binding promotes competence of pharyngeal gene transcription and, by extension, foregut development.
PMCID: PMC2920861  PMID: 20714352
2.  The Caenorhabditis elegans Myc-Mondo/Mad Complexes Integrate Diverse Longevity Signals 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(4):e1004278.
The Myc family of transcription factors regulates a variety of biological processes, including the cell cycle, growth, proliferation, metabolism, and apoptosis. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the “Myc interaction network” consists of two opposing heterodimeric complexes with antagonistic functions in transcriptional control: the Myc-Mondo:Mlx transcriptional activation complex and the Mad:Max transcriptional repression complex. In C. elegans, Mondo, Mlx, Mad, and Max are encoded by mml-1, mxl-2, mdl-1, and mxl-1, respectively. Here we show a similar antagonistic role for the C. elegans Myc-Mondo and Mad complexes in longevity control. Loss of mml-1 or mxl-2 shortens C. elegans lifespan. In contrast, loss of mdl-1 or mxl-1 increases longevity, dependent upon MML-1:MXL-2. The MML-1:MXL-2 and MDL-1:MXL-1 complexes function in both the insulin signaling and dietary restriction pathways. Furthermore, decreased insulin-like/IGF-1 signaling (ILS) or conditions of dietary restriction increase the accumulation of MML-1, consistent with the notion that the Myc family members function as sensors of metabolic status. Additionally, we find that Myc family members are regulated by distinct mechanisms, which would allow for integrated control of gene expression from diverse signals of metabolic status. We compared putative target genes based on ChIP-sequencing data in the modENCODE project and found significant overlap in genomic DNA binding between the major effectors of ILS (DAF-16/FoxO), DR (PHA-4/FoxA), and Myc family (MDL-1/Mad/Mxd) at common target genes, which suggests that diverse signals of metabolic status converge on overlapping transcriptional programs that influence aging. Consistent with this, there is over-enrichment at these common targets for genes that function in lifespan, stress response, and carbohydrate metabolism. Additionally, we find that Myc family members are also involved in stress response and the maintenance of protein homeostasis. Collectively, these findings indicate that Myc family members integrate diverse signals of metabolic status, to coordinate overlapping metabolic and cytoprotective transcriptional programs that determine the progression of aging.
Author Summary
Transcription factors are essential proteins that regulate the expression of genes and play an important role in most biological processes. The results of our study presented here demonstrate for the first time a role in aging for a small family of transcription factors in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Importantly, these proteins have close relatives in higher organisms, including humans that influence metabolism, cell replication, and have been implicated in the development of cancer. Moreover, the loss of one homologue has also been implicated in Williams-Beuren syndrome, a disease characterized in part by signs of premature aging. Our data demonstrate that these transcription factors function within insulin/IGF-1 signaling and dietary restriction, two highly conserved pathways that link nutrient sensing to longevity. Taken together, our findings provide exciting new insight into a family of proteins that may be essential for linking nutrient sensing to longevity and have implications for the improvement of human healthspan.
PMCID: PMC3974684  PMID: 24699255
3.  Cellular reprogramming by the conjoint action of ERα, FOXA1, and GATA3 to a ligand-inducible growth state 
Estrogen receptor α (ERα), FOXA1, and GATA3 form a functional enhanceosome in MCF-7 breast carcinoma cell that is significantly associated with active transcriptional features such as enhanced p300 co-activator and RNA Pol II recruitment as well as chromatin opening.The enhanceosome exerts significant impact and optimal transcriptional control in the regulation of E2-responsive genes.The presence of FOXA1 and GATA3 is indispensable in restoring the ERα growth-response machinery in the ERα-negative cells and recapitulating the appropriate expression cassette.
Estrogen receptor α (ERα) is a ligand-inducible hormone nuclear receptor that has important physiology and pathology roles in reproduction, cancer, and cardiovascular biology. The regulation of ERα involves its binding to the DNA recognition sequence also known as estrogen-response elements (EREs) and recruits a variety of co-activators, corepressors, and chromatin remodeling enzymes to initiate transcription machinery. In our previous (Lin et al, 2007) and recent (Joseph et al, 2010) studies, we have identified high confidence ERα binding sites in MCF-7 human mammary carcinoma cells. With known motif scanning and de novo motif detection, we identified that FOXA1 and GATA3 motifs were commonly enriched around ERα binding sites. Moreover, numerous microarray studies have documented the co-expression of ERα, FOXA1, and GATA3 in primary breast tumors (Badve et al, 2007; Wilson and Giguere, 2008). This evidence suggests that these three transcription factors (TFs) may cluster on DNA binding sites and contribute to the breast cancer phenotype. However, there is little understanding as to the nature of their coordinated interaction at the genome level or the biological consequences of their detailed interaction.
We mapped the genome-wide binding profiles of ERα, FOXA1, and GATA3 using the massive parallel chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-seq) approach. We observed that ERα, FOXA1, and GATA3 colocalized in a coordinated manner where ∼30% of all ERα binding sites were overlapped with FOXA1 and GATA3 bindings upon estrogen (E2) stimulation. Moreover, we found that the ERα+FOXA1+GATA3 conjoint sites were associated with highest p300 co-activator recruitment, RNA Pol II occupancy, and chromatin opening. Such results indicate that these three TFs form a functional enhanceosome and cooperatively modulate the transcriptional networks previously ascribed to ERα alone. And such enhanceosome binding sites appear to regulate the genes driving core ERα function.
To further validate that ERα+FOXA1+GATA3 co-binding represents an optimal configuration for E2-mediated transcriptional activation, we have performed luciferase reporter assays on GREB1 locus that actively engages ERα enhanceosome sites in gene regulation (Figure 5C). The presence of ERα induced the GREB1 luciferase activity to ∼246% (as compared with the control construct). The individual presence of FOXA1 and GATA3 or combination of both only produced subtle changes to the GREB1 luciferase activity. The combination of ERα+FOXA1 and ERα+GATA3 has increased the luciferase activity to ∼330%. Interestingly, the assemblage of ERα+FOXA1+GATA3 provided the optimal ER responsiveness to 370%. This suggests that ERα provides the fundamental gene regulatory module but that FOXA1 and GATA3 incrementally improve ERα-regulated transcriptional induction.
It is known that ERα is a ligand-activated TF that mediates the proliferative effects of E2 in breast cancer cells. Garcia et al (1992) showed inhibited growth in MDA-MB-231 cells with forced expression of ERα upon E2 treatment. The rationale for these different outcomes has remained elusive. We posited that these higher order regulatory mechanisms of ERα function such as the formation and composition of enhanceosomes may explain the establishment of transcriptional regulatory cassettes favoring either growth enhancement or growth repression.
To test this hypothesis, we stably transfected the MDA-MB-231 cells with individual ERα, FOXA1, GATA3, or in combinations (Figure 6A). We observed inhibited growth in cells with enforced expression of ERα or FOXA1. There was unaltered growth in cells with expression of GATA3. Co-expression of ERα+FOXA1 or ERα+GATA3 exhibited inhibition of cell proliferation as compared with control cells. However, the co-expression of ERα together with FOXA1 and GATA3 resulted in marked induction of cell proliferation under E2 stimulation. We have recapitulated this cellular reprogramming in another ERα-negative breast cancer cell line, BT-549 and observed similar E2-responsive growth induction in the ERα+FOXA1+GATA3-expressing BT-549 cells. This suggests that only with the full activation of conjoint binding sites by the three TFs will the proliferative phenotype associated with ligand induced ERα be manifest.
To assess the nature of this transcriptional reprogramming, we asked the question if the reprogrammed MDA-MB-231 cells display any similarity in the expression profile of the ERα-positive breast cancer cell line, MCF-7 (Figure 6C). We combined the E2-regulated genes from these differently transfected MDA-MB-231 cells, and compared their expressions in these MDA-MB-231-transfected cells and MCF-7 cells. Strikingly, we found that the expression profiles of ERα+FOXA1+GATA3-expressing MDA-MB-231 cells display a good correlation (R=0.42) with the E2-induced expression profile of MCF-7. We did not observe such correlation between the expression profiles of MDA-MB-231 transfected with ERα only (R=−0.21). Furthermore, we observed that there is marginal induced expression of luminal marker genes and reduced expression of basal genes in the ERα+FOXA1+GATA3-expressing MDA-MB-231 as compared with the vector control cells. This suggests that the enhanceosome component is competent to partially reprogramme the basal cells to resemble the luminal cells.
Taken together, we have uncovered the genomics impact as well as the functional importance of an enhanceosome comprising ERα, FOXA1, and GATA3 in the estrogen responsiveness of ERα-positive breast cancer cells. This enhanceosome exerts significant combinatorial control of the transcriptional network regulating growth and proliferation of ERα-positive breast cancer cells. Most importantly, we show that the transfection of the enhanceosome component was necessary to reprogramme the ERα-negative cells to restore the estrogen-responsive growth and to transcriptionally induce a basal to luminal transition.
Despite the role of the estrogen receptor α (ERα) pathway as a key growth driver for breast cells, the phenotypic consequence of exogenous introduction of ERα into ERα-negative cells paradoxically has been growth inhibition. We mapped the binding profiles of ERα and its interacting transcription factors (TFs), FOXA1 and GATA3 in MCF-7 breast carcinoma cells, and observed that these three TFs form a functional enhanceosome that regulates the genes driving core ERα function and cooperatively modulate the transcriptional networks previously ascribed to ERα alone. We demonstrate that these enhanceosome occupied sites are associated with optimal enhancer characteristics with highest p300 co-activator recruitment, RNA Pol II occupancy, and chromatin opening. Most importantly, we show that the transfection of all three TFs was necessary to reprogramme the ERα-negative MDA-MB-231 and BT-549 cells to restore the estrogen-responsive growth resembling estrogen-treated ERα-positive MCF-7 cells. Cumulatively, these results suggest that all the enhanceosome components comprising ERα, FOXA1, and GATA3 are necessary for the full repertoire of cancer-associated effects of the ERα.
PMCID: PMC3202798  PMID: 21878914
enhanceosome; estrogen receptor α; FOXA1; GATA3; synthetic phenotypes
4.  Temporal Regulation of Foregut Development by HTZ-1/H2A.Z and PHA-4/FoxA  
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(9):e161.
The histone variant H2A.Z is evolutionarily conserved and plays an essential role in mice, Drosophila, and Tetrahymena. The essential function of H2A.Z is unknown, with some studies suggesting a role in transcriptional repression and others in activation. Here we show that Caenorhabditis elegans HTZ-1/H2A.Z and the remodeling complex MYS-1/ESA1–SSL-1/SWR1 synergize with the FoxA transcription factor PHA-4 to coordinate temporal gene expression during foregut development. We observe dramatic genetic interactions between pha-4 and htz-1, mys-1, and ssl-1. A survey of transcription factors reveals that this interaction is specific, and thus pha-4 is acutely sensitive to reductions in these three proteins. Using a nuclear spot assay to visualize HTZ-1 in living embryos as organogenesis proceeds, we show that HTZ-1 is recruited to foregut promoters at the time of transcriptional onset, and this recruitment requires PHA-4. Loss of htz-1 by RNAi is lethal and leads to delayed expression of a subset of foregut genes. Thus, the effects of PHA-4 on temporal regulation can be explained in part by recruitment of HTZ-1 to target promoters. We suggest PHA-4 and HTZ-1 coordinate temporal gene expression by modulating the chromatin environment.
During development, a single fertilized egg gives rise to the different cell types within an embryo. These different cell types are characterized by the different genes that they express. A critical question in biology is how embryonic cells activate genes at the appropriate time and place to generate the different cell types. In this paper, the authors explore temporal regulation of gene expression during formation of an organ, namely the Caenorhabditis elegans foregut. They have discovered that foregut genes require a variant of the canonical H2A histone for the onset of transcription. This variant, called H2A.Z, or htz-1 in C. elegans, promotes transcription by modifying how DNA is packaged within cells. Their data suggest that a key regulator of foregut development, the transcription factor PHA-4, recruits HTZ-1 to pharyngeal promoters, and this association contributes to their timely activation.
PMCID: PMC1584275  PMID: 17009877
5.  Function of the PHA-4/FOXA transcription factor during C. elegans post-embryonic development 
pha-4 encodes a forkhead box (FOX) A transcription factor serving as the C. elegans pharynx organ identity factor during embryogenesis. Using Serial Analysis of Gene Expression (SAGE), comparison of gene expression profiles between growing stages animals and long-lived, developmentally diapaused dauer larvae revealed that pha-4 transcription is increased in the dauer stage.
Knocking down pha-4 expression by RNAi during post-embryonic development showed that PHA-4 is essential for dauer recovery, gonad and vulva development. daf-16, which encodes a FOXO transcription factor regulated by insulin/IGF-1 signaling, shows overlapping expression patterns and a loss-of-function post-embryonic phenotype similar to that of pha-4 during dauer recovery. pha-4 RNAi and daf-16 mutations have additive effects on dauer recovery, suggesting these two regulators may function in parallel pathways. Gene expression studies using RT-PCR and GFP reporters showed that pha-4 transcription is elevated under starvation, and a conserved forkhead transcription factor binding site in the second intron of pha-4 is important for the neuronal expression. The vulval transcription of lag-2, which encodes a ligand for the LIN-12/Notch lateral signaling pathway, is inhibited by pha-4 RNAi, indicating that LAG-2 functions downstream of PHA-4 in vulva development.
Analysis of PHA-4 during post-embryonic development revealed previously unsuspected functions for this important transcriptional regulator in dauer recovery, and may help explain the network of transcriptional control integrating organogenesis with the decision between growth and developmental arrest at the dauer entry and exit stages.
PMCID: PMC2292151  PMID: 18312672
6.  The Target of Rapamycin (TOR) pathway antagonizes pha-4/FoxA to control development and aging 
Current biology : CB  2008;18(18):1355-1364.
FoxA factors are critical regulators of embryonic development and post-embryonic life, but little is know about the upstream pathways that modulate their activity [1]. C. elegans pha-4 encodes a FoxA transcription factor that is required to establish the foregut in embryos, and to control growth and longevity after birth [2–5]. We previously identified the AAA+ ATPase homologue ruvb-1 as a potent suppressor of pha-4 mutations [6].
Here we show that ruvb-1 is a component of the TOR pathway in C. elegans (CeTOR). Both ruvb-1 and let-363/TOR control nucleolar size and promote localization of box C/D snoRNPs to nucleoli, suggesting a role in rRNA maturation. Inactivation of let-363/TOR or ruvb-1 suppresses the lethality associated with reduced pha-4 activity. The CeTOR pathway controls protein homeostasis and also contributes to adult longevity [7, 8]. We find that pha-4 is required to extend adult lifespan in response to reduced CeTOR signaling. Mutations in the predicted CeTOR target rsks-1/S6 kinase or in ife-2/eIF4E also reduce protein biosynthesis and extend lifespan [9–11], but only rsks-1 mutations require pha-4 for adult longevity. In addition, rsks-1, but not ife-2, can suppress the larval lethality associated with pha-4 loss-of-function mutations.
The data suggest that pha-4 and the CeTOR pathway antagonize one another to regulate post-embryonic development and adult longevity. We suggest a model in which nutrients promote TOR and S6 kinase signaling, which represses pha-4/FoxA, leading to a shorter lifespan. A similar regulatory hierarchy may function in other animals to modulate metabolism, longevity or disease.
PMCID: PMC2615410  PMID: 18804378
7.  A Mechanistic Basis for the Coordinated Regulation of Pharyngeal Morphogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans by LIN-35/Rb and UBC-18–ARI-1 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(6):e1000510.
Genetic redundancy, whereby two genes carry out seemingly overlapping functions, may in large part be attributable to the intricacy and robustness of genetic networks that control many developmental processes. We have previously described a complex set of genetic interactions underlying foregut development in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Specifically, LIN-35/Rb, a tumor suppressor ortholog, in conjunction with UBC-18–ARI-1, a conserved E2/E3 complex, and PHA-1, a novel protein, coordinately regulates an early step of pharyngeal morphogenesis involving cellular re-orientation. Functional redundancy is indicated by the observation that lin-35; ubc-18 double mutants, as well as certain allelic combinations of pha-1 with either lin-35 or ubc-18, display defects in pharyngeal development, whereas single mutants do not. Using a combination of genetic and molecular analyses, we show that sup-35, a strong recessive suppressor of pha-1–associated lethality, also reverts the synthetic lethality of lin-35; ubc-18, lin-35; pha-1, and ubc-18 pha-1 double mutants. SUP-35, which contains C2H2-type Zn-finger domains as well as a conserved RMD-like motif, showed a dynamic pattern of subcellular localization during embryogenesis. We find that mutations in sup-35 specifically suppress hypomorphic alleles of pha-1 and that SUP-35, acting genetically upstream of SUP-36 and SUP-37, negatively regulates pha-1 transcription. We further demonstrate that LIN-35, a transcriptional repressor, and UBC-18–ARI-1, a complex involved in ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis, negatively regulate SUP-35 abundance through distinct mechanisms. We also show that HCF-1, a C. elegans homolog of host cell factor 1, functionally antagonizes LIN-35 in the regulation of sup-35. Our cumulative findings piece together the components of a novel regulatory network that includes LIN-35/Rb, which functions to control organ morphogenesis. Our results also shed light on general mechanisms that may underlie developmental genetic redundancies as well as principles that may govern complex disease traits.
Author Summary
One of the more puzzling aspects of genetics is that the inactivation of many genes fails to produce strong deleterious effects on the organisms that carry those genes. In some cases, however, the combined inactivation of two or more such genes can lead to the expression of robust abnormal phenotypes. These types of synthetic genetic interactions are thought to reflect the presence of functional overlap or redundancy between the involved genes. The root mechanisms that underlie synthetic interactions are thought to be complex and are in most cases poorly understood. Our work here focuses on one case study where we have uncovered the molecular basis underlying a complex set of genetic redundancies in C. elegans. More specifically, we have discovered a novel regulatory network that connects eight genes controlling embryonic foregut development in the nematode C. elegans. By solving mechanisms of this nature, our analysis provides a means for understanding more generally the principles that govern genetic redundancies. Our work also provides insight into the bases of complex disease traits, where the combined interactions of multiple genetic factors leads to outcomes that determine health or disease.
PMCID: PMC2686152  PMID: 19521497
8.  A systematic approach identifies FOXA1 as a key factor in the loss of epithelial traits during the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in lung cancer 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:680.
The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition is an important mechanism in cancer metastasis. Although transcription factors including SNAIL, SLUG, and TWIST1 regulate the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, other unknown transcription factors could also be involved. Identification of the full complement of transcription factors is essential for a more complete understanding of gene regulation in this process. Chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-Seq) technologies have been used to detect genome-wide binding of transcription factors; here, we developed a systematic approach to integrate existing ChIP-Seq and transcriptome data. We scanned multiple transcription factors to investigate their functional impact on the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in the human A549 lung adenocarcinoma cell line.
Among the transcription factors tested, impact scores identified the forkhead box protein A1 (FOXA1) as the most significant transcription factor in the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. FOXA1 physically associates with the promoters of its predicted target genes. Several critical epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition effectors involved in cellular adhesion and cellular communication were identified in the regulatory network of FOXA1, including FOXA2, FGA, FGB, FGG, and FGL1. The implication of FOXA1 in the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition via its regulatory network indicates that FOXA1 may play an important role in the initiation of lung cancer metastasis.
We identified FOXA1 as a potentially important transcription factor and negative regulator in the initial stages of lung cancer metastasis. FOXA1 may modulate the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition via its transcriptional regulatory network. Further, this study demonstrates how ChIP-Seq and expression data could be integrated to delineate the impact of transcription factors on a specific biological process.
PMCID: PMC3852829  PMID: 24093963
The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; Lung cancer; ChIP-Seq; FOXA1
9.  A Role for Autophagy in the Extension of Lifespan by Dietary Restriction in C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(2):e24.
In many organisms, dietary restriction appears to extend lifespan, at least in part, by down-regulating the nutrient-sensor TOR (Target Of Rapamycin). TOR inhibition elicits autophagy, the large-scale recycling of cytoplasmic macromolecules and organelles. In this study, we asked whether autophagy might contribute to the lifespan extension induced by dietary restriction in C. elegans. We find that dietary restriction and TOR inhibition produce an autophagic phenotype and that inhibiting genes required for autophagy prevents dietary restriction and TOR inhibition from extending lifespan. The longevity response to dietary restriction in C. elegans requires the PHA-4 transcription factor. We find that the autophagic response to dietary restriction also requires PHA-4 activity, indicating that autophagy is a transcriptionally regulated response to food limitation. In spite of the rejuvenating effect that autophagy is predicted to have on cells, our findings suggest that autophagy is not sufficient to extend lifespan. Long-lived daf-2 insulin/IGF-1 receptor mutants require both autophagy and the transcription factor DAF-16/FOXO for their longevity, but we find that autophagy takes place in the absence of DAF-16. Perhaps autophagy is not sufficient for lifespan extension because although it provides raw material for new macromolecular synthesis, DAF-16/FOXO must program the cells to recycle this raw material into cell-protective longevity proteins.
Author Summary
Dietary restriction (limited food intake) increases lifespan in many organisms. However, the cellular processes underlying this fascinating phenomenon are still poorly understood. When an animal is starved, it degrades and recycles its organelles and other cellular components in a process called autophagy (literally “self-eating”). Here, we have asked whether autophagy also occurs in response to dietary restriction, using the roundworm C. elegans for our studies. We find that autophagy does take place when food intake is limited. Moreover, inhibiting genes required for autophagy has little effect on well-fed animals but prevents food limitation from extending lifespan. This autophagy requires PHA-4/FOXA, a life-extension protein that regulates gene expression, suggesting that changes in gene expression are required for dietary restriction to stimulate autophagy. Because autophagy seems like such a rejuvenating process, it might seem to be sufficient to increase longevity. However, we find that, in long-lived hormone-pathway mutants, both autophagy and DAF-16/FOXO, another protein that controls gene expression, are required for longevity. We propose that autophagy frees up new resources for the cell, but that transcription factors like the DAF-16/FOXO protein must channel this raw material into new cell-protective proteins in order for lifespan to be increased.
PMCID: PMC2242811  PMID: 18282106
10.  The Ralstonia eutropha PhaR Protein Couples Synthesis of the PhaP Phasin to the Presence of Polyhydroxybutyrate in Cells and Promotes Polyhydroxybutyrate Production 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(1):59-66.
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are polyoxoesters that are produced by many bacteria and that accumulate as intracellular granules. Phasins (PhaP) are proteins that accumulate during PHA synthesis, bind PHA granules, and promote further PHA synthesis. Interestingly, PhaP accumulation seems to be strictly dependent on PHA synthesis, which is catalyzed by the PhaC PHA synthase. Here we have tested the effect of the Ralstonia eutropha PhaR protein on the regulation of PhaP accumulation. R. eutropha strains with phaR, phaC, and/or phaP deletions were constructed, and PhaP accumulation was measured by immunoblotting. The wild-type strain accumulated PhaP in a manner dependent on PHA production, and the phaC deletion strain accumulated no PhaP, as expected. In contrast, both the phaR and the phaR phaC deletion strains accumulated PhaP to higher levels than did the wild type. This result implies that PhaR is a negative regulator of PhaP accumulation and that PhaR specifically prevents PhaP from accumulating in cells that are not producing PHA. Transfer of the R. eutropha phaR, phaP, and PHA biosynthesis (phaCAB) genes into a heterologous system, Escherichia coli, was sufficient to reconstitute the PhaR/PhaP regulatory system, implying that PhaR both regulates PhaP accumulation and responds to PHA directly. Deletion of phaR caused a decrease in PHA yields, and a phaR phaP deletion strain exhibited a more severe PHA defect than a phaP deletion strain, implying that PhaR promotes PHA production and does this at least partially through a PhaP-independent pathway. Models for regulatory roles of PhaR in regulating PhaP and promoting PHA production are presented.
PMCID: PMC134771  PMID: 11741844
11.  Dissecting the retinoid-induced differentiation of F9 embryonal stem cells by integrative genomics 
We reveal how the RXRα−RARγ heterodimer upon activation by ATRA sets up a sequence of temporally controlled events that generate different subsets of primary and secondarily induced gene networks.We established RARγ and RXRα chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analyses coupled with massive parallel sequencing (ChIP-seq) together with the corresponding microarray transcriptomics at five time points during differentiation using pan-RAR and RAR isotype-selective ligands.Gene-regulatory decisions were inferred in silico from the dynamic changes of the transcriptomics patterns that correlated with the expression of RXRα−RARγ and other annotated transcription factors (TFs).Our analysis provides a temporal view of retinoic acid (RA) signalling during F9 cell differentiation, reveals RA receptor (RAR) heterodimer dynamics and promiscuity, and predicts decisions that diversify the RA signal into distinct gene-regulatory programs.
Nuclear receptors are ligand-inducible transcription factors, which upon induction by their cognate ligand induce complex temporally controlled physiological programs. Retinoic acid (RA) and its receptors are key regulators of multiple physiological processes, including embryogenesis, organogenesis, immune functions, reproduction and organ homeostasis. While insight into (some of) the physiological functions of the various RA receptor (RAR) and retinoid X receptor (RXR) subtypes has been obtained by exploiting mouse genetics (for a review, see Mark et al, 2006) we are far from an understanding of the molecular circuitries and gene networks that are at the basis of these physiological events.
RAs act by interacting with a complex receptor system that comprises heterodimers formed by one of the three RXR (RARα, β and γ) and RAR (RARα, β and γ) isotypes. While insight into the role of heterodimerization on response element preference and contribution of RAR and RXR to transcription activation of model genes has been obtained (for review, see Gronemeyer et al, 2004) very little is known about the role and dynamics of target gene interaction of the various RXR–RAR heterodimers at a global scale in the context of a biological program.
More fundamentally, in order to develop a systems biology of nuclear receptors we need to establish approaches that reveal how the initial event, the information embedded in the chemical structure of a small molecular weight compound, is propagated through binding to cognate receptor(s), recruitment of co-regulatory factors, epigenetic modulators and additional complexes/machineries to establish temporally controlled gene programs. In this respect, a recent study has revealed the impact of epigenetic modulator crosstalk in the setting up of subprograms for oestrogen receptor signalling (Ceschin et al, 2011).
In the present study, we have used mouse F9 EC cells, a homogeneous cell system which is known to differentiate upon RA exposure and require RARγ for this response (Taneja et al, 1996), in order to integrate at a genome-wide scale (i) the dynamics of RXRα and RARγ binding by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analyses coupled with massive parallel sequencing (ChIP-seq), (ii) the correlated temporal regulation of gene programs by global transcriptomics analyses, including (iii) the response to isotype-selective RAR ligands (Box 1). Our study revealed an unexpected highly dynamic association of the RXRα–RARγ with target chromatin and an unexpected dynamics of the heterodimer composition itself, which is indicative of partner swapping.
Inspired by early works on the dynamics of Drosophila puffing patterns during ecdysone-induced metamorphosis (Ashburner et al, 1974) our working hypothesis was that diversification of gene programming is achieved by the sequential activation of separable gene cohorts that constitute the various facets of differentiation, such as altered proliferation, cell physiology, signalling and finally terminal apoptogenic differentiation. To identify these temporally activated subroutines within the overall program, we inferred gene-regulatory decisions in silico from dynamically altered global gene expression patterns that occurred due to the action of RXRα−RARγ and other annotated TFs (Ernst et al, 2007). This dynamic regulatory map was used to reconstruct RXRα–RARγ signalling networks by integration of functional co-citation. Altogether we present a genome-wide view of the temporal gene-regulatory events and the corresponding gene programs elicited by the RXRα–RARγ during F9 cell differentiation. Our study deciphers some of the mechanisms by which the chemical information encoded in RA is diversified to regulate different cohorts of genes.
Retinoic acid (RA) triggers physiological processes by activating heterodimeric transcription factors (TFs) comprising retinoic acid receptor (RARα, β, γ) and retinoid X receptor (RXRα, β, γ). How a single signal induces highly complex temporally controlled networks that ultimately orchestrate physiological processes is unclear. Using an RA-inducible differentiation model, we defined the temporal changes in the genome-wide binding patterns of RARγ and RXRα and correlated them with transcription regulation. Unexpectedly, both receptors displayed a highly dynamic binding, with different RXRα heterodimers targeting identical loci. Comparison of RARγ and RXRα co-binding at RA-regulated genes identified putative RXRα–RARγ target genes that were validated with subtype-selective agonists. Gene-regulatory decisions during differentiation were inferred from TF-target gene information and temporal gene expression. This analysis revealed six distinct co-expression paths of which RXRα–RARγ is associated with transcription activation, while Sox2 and Egr1 were predicted to regulate repression. Finally, RXRα–RARγ regulatory networks were reconstructed through integration of functional co-citations. Our analysis provides a dynamic view of RA signalling during cell differentiation, reveals RAR heterodimer dynamics and promiscuity, and predicts decisions that diversify the RA signal into distinct gene-regulatory programs.
This study provides a dynamic view of retinoic acid signalling during cell differentiation, reveals RAR/RXR heterodimer dynamics and promiscuity, and predicts decisions that diversify the RA signal into distinct gene-regulatory programs.
PMCID: PMC3261707  PMID: 21988834
ChIP-seq; retinoic acid-induced differentiation; RXR–RAR heterodimers; temporal control of gene networks; transcriptomics
12.  A Widespread Distribution of Genomic CeMyoD Binding Sites Revealed and Cross Validated by ChIP-Chip and ChIP-Seq Techniques 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15898.
Identifying transcription factor binding sites genome-wide using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-based technology is becoming an increasingly important tool in addressing developmental questions. However, technical problems associated with factor abundance and suitable ChIP reagents are common obstacles to these studies in many biological systems. We have used two completely different, widely applicable methods to determine by ChIP the genome-wide binding sites of the master myogenic regulatory transcription factor HLH-1 (CeMyoD) in C. elegans embryos. The two approaches, ChIP-seq and ChIP-chip, yield strongly overlapping results revealing that HLH-1 preferentially binds to promoter regions of genes enriched for E-box sequences (CANNTG), known binding sites for this well-studied class of transcription factors. HLH-1 binding sites were enriched upstream of genes known to be expressed in muscle, consistent with its role as a direct transcriptional regulator. HLH-1 binding was also detected at numerous sites unassociated with muscle gene expression, as has been previously described for its mouse homolog MyoD. These binding sites may reflect several additional functions for HLH-1, including its interactions with one or more co-factors to activate (or repress) gene expression or a role in chromatin organization distinct from direct transcriptional regulation of target genes. Our results also provide a comparison of ChIP methodologies that can overcome limitations commonly encountered in these types of studies while highlighting the complications of assigning in vivo functions to identified target sites.
PMCID: PMC3012110  PMID: 21209968
13.  PhaF, a Polyhydroxyalkanoate-Granule-Associated Protein of Pseudomonas oleovorans GPo1 Involved in the Regulatory Expression System for pha Genes 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(3):858-868.
The phaC1 gene codes for the medium-chain-length polyhydroxyalkanoate (mcl PHA) synthase of Pseudomonas oleovorans GPo1, which produces mcl PHA when grown in an excess of carbon source and under nitrogen limitation. In this work, we have demonstrated, by constructing a recombinant P. oleovorans strain carrying a phaC1::lacZ reporter system, that the phaC1 gene is expressed efficiently in the presence of octanoic acid while its expression is repressed when glucose or citrate is used as the carbon source. Moreover, a P. oleovorans GPo1 mutant (strain GPG-Tc6) expressing higher levels of the reporter gene than the wild-type strain in the presence of glucose or citrate has been generated by mini-Tn5 insertional mutagenesis. Characterization of this mutant allowed us to conclude that phaF, a gene located downstream of the pha gene cluster, was knocked out in this strain. P. oleovorans GPG-Tc6 regained the ability to control phaC1 gene expression when complemented with the phaF wild-type gene. Sequencing data revealed the presence of three complete open reading frames (ORFs) in this region: ORF1 and phaI and phaF genes. The amino acid sequences of the phaI gene product and the N-terminal half of the PhaF protein showed a significant degree of similarity. Furthermore, the primary structure of the PhaF C terminus identifies this protein as a member of the histone H1-like group of proteins. Northern blot analysis showed two transcription units containing phaF, i.e., phaF and phaIF transcripts. Expression of the phaIF operon is more efficient in the presence of octanoic acid and is enhanced by the lack of the PhaF protein. In addition, it has also been demonstrated that both PhaF and PhaI proteins are bound to PHA granules produced by P. oleovorans. A model for the role of PhaF in regulating PHA synthesis is presented.
PMCID: PMC93452  PMID: 9922249
14.  N-acylethanolamine signaling mediates the effect of diet on lifespan in C. elegans 
Nature  2011;473(7346):226-229.
Dietary restriction (DR) is a robust means of extending adult lifespan and postponing age-related disease in many species, including yeast, worms, flies and rodents1,2. Studies of the genetic requirements for lifespan extension by DR in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) have implicated a number of key players in this process3–5, including the nutrient-sensing target of rapamycin (TOR) pathway6 and the Foxa transcription factor PHA-47. However, little is known about the metabolic signals that coordinate the organismal response to DR and maintain homeostasis when nutrients are limited. The endocannabinoid (EC) system is an excellent candidate to play such a role given its involvement in regulating nutrient intake and energy balance8. Despite this, a direct role for EC signaling in DR or lifespan determination has yet to be demonstrated, in part due to the apparent absence of EC signaling pathways in model organisms that are amenable to lifespan analysis9. N-acylethanolamines (NAEs) are lipid-derived signaling molecules, which include the mammalian EC arachidonoyl ethanolamide (AEA). Here we identify NAEs in C. elegans, show that NAE abundance is reduced under DR and that NAE deficiency is sufficient to extend lifespan through a DR mechanism requiring PHA-4. Conversely, dietary supplementation with the nematode NAE eicosapentaenoyl ethanolamide (EPEA) not only inhibits DR-induced lifespan extension in wild type animals, but also suppresses lifespan extension in a TOR pathway mutant. This demonstrates a role for NAE signaling in aging and suggests that NAEs represent a signal that coordinates nutrient status with metabolic changes that ultimately determine lifespan.
PMCID: PMC3093655  PMID: 21562563
15.  PhaQ, a New Class of Poly-β-Hydroxybutyrate (PHB)-Responsive Repressor, Regulates phaQ and phaP (Phasin) Expression in Bacillus megaterium through Interaction with PHB 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(10):3015-3021.
Bacillus megaterium can produce poly-β-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) as carbon and energy storage materials. We now report that the phaQ gene, which is located upstream of the phasin-encoding phaP gene, codes for a new class of transcriptional regulator that negatively controls expression of both phaQ and phaP. A PhaQ binding site that plays a role in this control has been identified by gel mobility shift assays and DNase I footprinting analysis. We have also provided evidence that PhaQ could sense the presence of PHB in vivo and that artificial PHB granules could inhibit the formation of PhaQ-DNA complex in vitro by binding to PhaQ directly. These suggest that PhaQ is a PHB-responsive repressor.
PMCID: PMC400616  PMID: 15126462
16.  Whole-Genome Analysis of Temporal Gene Expression during Foregut Development 
PLoS Biology  2004;2(11):e352.
We have investigated the cis-regulatory network that mediates temporal gene expression during organogenesis. Previous studies demonstrated that the organ selector gene pha-4/FoxA is critical to establish the onset of transcription of Caenorhabditis elegans foregut (pharynx) genes. Here, we discover additional cis-regulatory elements that function in combination with PHA-4. We use a computational approach to identify candidate cis-regulatory sites for genes activated either early or late during pharyngeal development. Analysis of natural or synthetic promoters reveals that six of these sites function in vivo. The newly discovered temporal elements, together with predicted PHA-4 sites, account for the onset of expression of roughly half of the pharyngeal genes examined. Moreover, combinations of temporal elements and PHA-4 sites can be used in genome-wide searches to predict pharyngeal genes, with more than 85% accuracy for their onset of expression. These findings suggest a regulatory code for temporal gene expression during foregut development and provide a means to predict gene expression patterns based solely on genomic sequence.
Computational analysis combined with validation by reporter gene studies is uncovering the code for temporal gene regulation in the C. elegans foregut - a model for organogenesis
PMCID: PMC523228  PMID: 15492775
17.  Role of T-box gene tbx-2 for anterior foregut muscle development in C. elegans 
Developmental biology  2006;302(1):25-39.
During organogenesis, pluripotent precursor cells acquire a defined identity such as muscle or nerve. The transition from naïve precursor towards the differentiated state is characterized by sequential waves of gene expression that are determined by regulatory transcription factors. A key question is how transcriptional circuitry dictates the succession of events that accompanies developmental competence, cell fate specification and differentiation. To address this question, we have examined how anterior muscles are established within the C. elegans foregut (pharynx). We find that the T-box transcription factor tbx-2 is essential to form anterior pharyngeal muscles from the ABa blastomere. In the absence of tbx-2 function, ABa-derived cells initiate development normally: they receive glp-1/Notch signaling cues, activate the T-box gene TBX-38 and express the organ selector gene PHA-4/FoxA. However, these cells subsequently arrest development, extinguish PHA-4 and fail to activate PHA-4 target genes. tbx-2 mutant cells do not undergo apoptosis and there is no evidence for adoption of an alternative fate. TBX-2 is expressed in ABa descendants and depends on activation by pha-4 and repression by glp-1/Notch signaling. Our analysis suggests that a positive feedback loop between tbx-2 and pha-4 is required for ABa-derived precursors to commit to pharyngeal muscle fate.
PMCID: PMC1852510  PMID: 17005176
Tbx2; Tbx3; Tbx4; Tbx5; omb; FoxA; pharynx; pha-4; Notch; glp-1; tbx-38
18.  Functional modularity of nuclear hormone receptors in a Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic gene regulatory network 
We present the first gene regulatory network (GRN) that pertains to post-developmental gene expression. Specifically, we mapped a transcription regulatory network of Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic gene promoters using gene-centered yeast one-hybrid assays. We found that the metabolic GRN is enriched for nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs) compared with other gene-centered regulatory networks, and that these NHRs organize into functional network modules.The NHR family has greatly expanded in nematodes; C. elegans has 284 NHRs, whereas humans have only 48. We show that the NHRs in the metabolic GRN have metabolic phenotypes, suggesting that they do not simply function redundantly.The mediator subunit MDT-15 preferentially interacts with NHRs that occur in the metabolic GRN.We describe an NHR circuit that responds to nutrient availability and propose a model for the evolution and organization of NHRs in C. elegans metabolic regulatory networks.
Physical and/or regulatory interactions between transcription factors (TFs) and their target genes are essential to establish body plans of multicellular organisms during development, and these interactions have been studied extensively in the context of GRNs. The precise control of differential gene expression is also of critical importance to maintain physiological homeostasis, and many metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes coincide with substantial changes in gene expression. Much work has focused on the GRNs that control metazoan development; however, the design principles and organization of the GRNs that control systems physiology remain largely unexplored.
In this study, we present the first gene-centered GRN that includes ∼70 genes involved in C. elegans metabolism and physiology, 100 TFs and more than 500 protein–DNA interactions between them. The resulting metabolic GRN is enriched for NHRs, compared with other gene-centered regulatory networks. NHRs are well-known regulators of lipid meta-qj;bolism in mammals. The transcriptional activity of NHRs can be modified by diffusible ligands, which allows these TFs to function as molecular sensors and rapidly alter the expression of their target genes. Interestingly, NHRs comprise the largest family of TFs in nematodes; the C. elegans genome encodes 284 NHRs, most of which are uncharacterized. Furthermore, their organization in GRNs has not yet been investigated. In our study, we show that the C. elegans NHRs that we retrieved in the metabolic GRN organize into network modules, and that most of these NHRs function to maintain lipid homeostasis in the nematode. Interestingly, network modularity has been proposed to facilitate rapid and robust changes in gene expression. Our results suggest that the C. elegans metabolic GRN may have evolved by combining NHR family expansion with the specific modular wiring of NHRs to enable the rapid adaptation of the animal to different environmental cues.
NHRs can interact with transcriptional cofactors such as chromatin remodeling complexes and Mediator components. For instance, the C. elegans Mediator subunit, MDT-15, can interact with NHR-49 to regulate the expression of its target genes. To find all the TFs that MDT-15 can interact with, we performed systematic yeast two-hybrid assays with MDT-15 versus 755 full-length TFs. We found that MDT-15 preferentially associates with NHRs, and specifically with those NHRs that confer a metabolic phenotype and that occur in the metabolic GRN. This illustrates the central role of MDT-15 in the regulation of metabolic gene expression.
Using a variety of genetic and biochemical approaches, we characterized NHR-86 in more detail. NHR-86 participates in one of the two NHR modules, and has a high-flux capacity; that is it has both a high incoming and a high outgoing degree. We obtained an nhr-86 mutant and generated an NHR-86 antibody, and showed that NHR-86 functions as an auto-repressor in vivo and that nhr-86 mutant animals store abnormally high levels of body fat.
Finally, we discovered a novel NHR circuit that responds to nutrient availability. In this circuit NHR-45 regulates the activity of nhr-178 promoter in two distinct physiologically important tissues: the intestine and the hypodermis. Both of these NHRs are required to maintain lipid homeostasis in C. elegans. The expression of nhr-178 is responsive to the nutritional status of the animal, which switches between ON and OFF states in the hypodermis. We found that NHR-45 activity is necessary to control this switch in the hypodermis. Interestingly, NHR-45 has opposite effects on the activity of the nhr-178 promoter in these tissues: NHR-45 activates this promoter in the intestine, but represses it in the hypodermis.
Altogether our study leads to a model in which the expansion of the NHR family, TFs that have the capacity to act as fast molecular sensors, is combined with a modular network organization to enable rapid and robust responses to various environmental cues.
Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) provide insights into the mechanisms of differential gene expression at a systems level. GRNs that relate to metazoan development have been studied extensively. However, little is still known about the design principles, organization and functionality of GRNs that control physiological processes such as metabolism, homeostasis and responses to environmental cues. In this study, we report the first experimentally mapped metazoan GRN of Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic genes. This network is enriched for nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs). The NHR family has greatly expanded in nematodes: humans have 48 NHRs, but C. elegans has 284, most of which are uncharacterized. We find that the C. elegans metabolic GRN is highly modular and that two GRN modules predominantly consist of NHRs. Network modularity has been proposed to facilitate a rapid response to different cues. As NHRs are metabolic sensors that are poised to respond to ligands, this suggests that C. elegans GRNs evolved to enable rapid and adaptive responses to different cues by a concurrence of NHR family expansion and modular GRN wiring.
PMCID: PMC2890327  PMID: 20461074
C. elegans; gene regulatory network; metabolism; nuclear hormone receptor; transcription factor
19.  PHA-4/FOXA-regulated microRNA feed forward loops during Caenorhabditis elegans dietary restriction 
Aging (Albany NY)  2014;6(10):835-851.
Dietary restriction (DR) increases life span and delays the onset of age-related diseases across species. However, the molecular mechanisms have remained relatively unexplored in terms of gene regulation. In C. elegans, a popular model for aging studies, the FOXA transcription factor PHA-4 is a robust genetic regulator of DR, although little is known about how it regulates gene expression. We profiled the transcriptome and miRNAome of an eat-2 mutant, a genetic surrogate of DR, by Next Generation sequencing and find that most of the miRNAs are upregulated in the young-adult worms, none significantly downregulated. Interestingly, PHA-4 can potentially regulate the expression of most of these miRNA genes. Remarkably, many of the PHA-4-regulated genes that are induced during DR are also targets of the PHA-4-upregulated miRNAs, forming a large feed-forward gene regulatory network. The genes targeted by the feed-forward loops (FFLs) are enriched for functions related to ubiquitin-mediated decay, lysosomal autophagy, cellular signalling, protein folding etc., processes that play critical roles in DR and longevity. Together our data provides a framework for understanding the complex and unique regulatory network employed during DR, suggesting that PHA-4 employs such FFLs to fine-tune gene expression and instil robustness in the system during energy crisis.
PMCID: PMC4247386  PMID: 25504288
microRNA; dietary restriction; PHA-4/FOXA; Transcription factor; miRNA; feed forward loops; aging
20.  Genome-Wide Location Analysis Reveals Distinct Transcriptional Circuitry by Paralogous Regulators Foxa1 and Foxa2 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(6):e1002770.
Gene duplication is a powerful driver of evolution. Newly duplicated genes acquire new roles that are relevant to fitness, or they will be lost over time. A potential path to functional relevance is mutation of the coding sequence leading to the acquisition of novel biochemical properties, as analyzed here for the highly homologous paralogs Foxa1 and Foxa2 transcriptional regulators. We determine by genome-wide location analysis (ChIP-Seq) that, although Foxa1 and Foxa2 share a large fraction of binding sites in the liver, each protein also occupies distinct regulatory elements in vivo. Foxa1-only sites are enriched for p53 binding sites and are frequently found near genes important to cell cycle regulation, while Foxa2-restricted sites show only a limited match to the forkhead consensus and are found in genes involved in steroid and lipid metabolism. Thus, Foxa1 and Foxa2, while redundant during development, have evolved divergent roles in the adult liver, ensuring the maintenance of both genes during evolution.
Author Summary
The duplication of a gene from a common ancestor, resulting in two copies known as paralogs, plays an important role in evolution. Newly duplicated genes must acquire new functions in order to remain relevant, otherwise they are lost via mutation over time. We have performed genome-wide location analysis (ChIP–Seq) in adult liver to examine the differences between two paralogous DNA binding proteins, Foxa1 and Foxa2. While Foxa1 and Foxa2 bind a number of common genomic locations, each protein also localizes to distinct regulatory regions. Sites specific for Foxa1 also contain a DNA motif bound by tumor suppressor p53 and are found near genes important to cell cycle regulation, while Foxa2-only sites are found near genes essential to steroid and lipid metabolism. Hence, Foxa1 and Foxa2 have developed unique functions in adult liver, contributing to the maintenance of both genes during evolution.
PMCID: PMC3380847  PMID: 22737085
21.  Whole-Genome Cartography of Estrogen Receptor α Binding Sites 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(6):e87.
Using a chromatin immunoprecipitation-paired end diTag cloning and sequencing strategy, we mapped estrogen receptor α (ERα) binding sites in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. We identified 1,234 high confidence binding clusters of which 94% are projected to be bona fide ERα binding regions. Only 5% of the mapped estrogen receptor binding sites are located within 5 kb upstream of the transcriptional start sites of adjacent genes, regions containing the proximal promoters, whereas vast majority of the sites are mapped to intronic or distal locations (>5 kb from 5′ and 3′ ends of adjacent transcript), suggesting transcriptional regulatory mechanisms over significant physical distances. Of all the identified sites, 71% harbored putative full estrogen response elements (EREs), 25% bore ERE half sites, and only 4% had no recognizable ERE sequences. Genes in the vicinity of ERα binding sites were enriched for regulation by estradiol in MCF-7 cells, and their expression profiles in patient samples segregate ERα-positive from ERα-negative breast tumors. The expression dynamics of the genes adjacent to ERα binding sites suggest a direct induction of gene expression through binding to ERE-like sequences, whereas transcriptional repression by ERα appears to be through indirect mechanisms. Our analysis also indicates a number of candidate transcription factor binding sites adjacent to occupied EREs at frequencies much greater than by chance, including the previously reported FOXA1 sites, and demonstrate the potential involvement of one such putative adjacent factor, Sp1, in the global regulation of ERα target genes. Unexpectedly, we found that only 22%–24% of the bona fide human ERα binding sites were overlapping conserved regions in whole genome vertebrate alignments, which suggest limited conservation of functional binding sites. Taken together, this genome-scale analysis suggests complex but definable rules governing ERα binding and gene regulation.
Author Summary
Estrogen receptors (ERs) play key roles in facilitating the transcriptional effects of hormone functions in target tissues. To obtain a genome-wide view of ERα binding sites, we applied chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with a cloning and sequencing strategy using chromatin immunoprecipitation pair end-tagging technology to map ERα binding sites in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. We identified 1,234 high quality ERα binding sites in the human genome and demonstrated that the binding sites are frequently adjacent to genes significantly associated with breast cancer disease status and outcome. The mapping results also revealed that ERα can influence gene expression across distances of up to 100 kilobases or more, that genes that are induced or repressed utilize sites in different regions relative to the transcript (suggesting different mechanisms of action), and that ERα binding sites are only modestly conserved in evolution. Using computational approaches, we identified potential interactions with other transcription factor binding sites adjacent to the ERα binding elements. Taken together, these findings suggest complex but definable rules governing ERα binding and gene regulation and provide a valuable dataset for mapping the precise control nodes for one of the most important nuclear hormone receptors in breast cancer biology.
PMCID: PMC1885282  PMID: 17542648
22.  Genome-Wide Analysis Reveals a Major Role in Cell Fate Maintenance and an Unexpected Role in Endoreduplication for the Drosophila FoxA Gene Fork Head 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20901.
Transcription factors drive organogenesis, from the initiation of cell fate decisions to the maintenance and implementation of these decisions. The Drosophila embryonic salivary gland provides an excellent platform for unraveling the underlying transcriptional networks of organ development because Drosophila is relatively unencumbered by significant genetic redundancy. The highly conserved FoxA family transcription factors are essential for various aspects of organogenesis in all animals that have been studied. Here, we explore the role of the single Drosophila FoxA protein Fork head (Fkh) in salivary gland organogenesis using two genome-wide strategies. A large-scale in situ hybridization analysis reveals a major role for Fkh in maintaining the salivary gland fate decision and controlling salivary gland physiological activity, in addition to its previously known roles in morphogenesis and survival. The majority of salivary gland genes (59%) are affected by fkh loss, mainly at later stages of salivary gland development. We show that global expression of Fkh cannot drive ectopic salivary gland formation. Thus, unlike the worm FoxA protein PHA-4, Fkh does not function to specify cell fate. In addition, Fkh only indirectly regulates many salivary gland genes, which is also distinct from the role of PHA-4 in organogenesis. Our microarray analyses reveal unexpected roles for Fkh in blocking terminal differentiation and in endoreduplication in the salivary gland and in other Fkh-expressing embryonic tissues. Overall, this study demonstrates an important role for Fkh in determining how an organ preserves its identity throughout development and provides an alternative paradigm for how FoxA proteins function in organogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3116861  PMID: 21698206
23.  Identification of Primary Gene Targets of TFAP2C in Hormone Responsive Breast Carcinoma Cells 
Genes, chromosomes & cancer  2010;49(10):948-962.
The TFAP2C transcription factor is involved in mammary development, differentiation and oncogenesis. Previous studies established a role for TFAP2C in the regulation of ESR1 (ERα) and ERBB2 (Her2) in breast carcinomas. However, the role of TFAP2C in different breast cancer phenotypes has not been examined in detail. To develop a more complete characterization of TFAP2C target genes, ChIP-seq with anti-TFAP2C antibody and expression arrays with TFAP2C knock down were analyzed in MCF-7 breast carcinoma cells. Genomic sequences common to the ChIP-seq data set defined the consensus sequence for TFAP2C chromatin binding as the nine base sequence SCCTSRGGS (S=G/C, R=A/G), which closely matches the previously defined optimal in vitro binding site. Comparing expression arrays before and after knock down of TFAP2C with ChIP-seq data demonstrated a conservative estimate that 8% of genes altered by TFAP2C expression are primary target genes and includes genes that are both induced and repressed by TFAP2C. A set of 447 primary target genes of TFAP2C was identified, which included ESR1 (ERα), FREM2, RET, FOXA1, WWOX, GREB1, MYC and members of the retinoic acid response pathway. The identification of ESR1, WWOX, GREB1 and FOXA1 as primary targets confirmed the role of TFAP2C in hormone response. TFAP2C plays a critical role in gene regulation in hormone responsive breast cancer and its target genes are different than for the Her2 breast cancer phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2928401  PMID: 20629094
24.  A Repressor Protein, PhaR, Regulates Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) Synthesis via Its Direct Interaction with PHA 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(14):3992-4002.
Phasins (PhaP) are predominantly polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) granule-associated proteins that positively affect PHA synthesis. Recently, we reported that the phaR gene, which is located downstream of phaP in Paracoccus denitrificans, codes for a negative regulator involved in PhaP expression. In this study, DNase I footprinting revealed that PhaR specifically binds to two regions located upstream of phaP and phaR, suggesting that PhaR plays a role in the regulation of phaP expression as well as autoregulation. Many TGC-rich sequences were found in upstream elements recognized by PhaR. PhaR in the crude lysate of recombinant Escherichia coli was able to rebind specifically to poly[(R)-3-hydroxybutyrate] [P(3HB)] granules. Furthermore, artificial P(3HB) granules and 3HB oligomers caused the dissociation of PhaR from PhaR-DNA complexes, but native PHA granules, which were covered with PhaP or other nonspecific proteins, did not cause the dissociation. These results suggest that PhaR is able to sense both the onset of PHA synthesis and the enlargement of the granules through direct binding to PHA. However, free PhaR is probably unable to sense the mature PHA granules which are already covered sufficiently with PhaP and/or other proteins. An in vitro expression experiment revealed that phaP expression was repressed by the addition of PhaR and was derepressed by the addition of P(3HB). Based on these findings, we present here a possible model accounting for the PhaR-mediated mechanism of PHA synthesis. Widespread distribution of PhaR homologs in short-chain-length PHA-producing bacteria suggests a common and important role of PhaR-mediated regulation of PHA synthesis.
PMCID: PMC135160  PMID: 12081972
25.  The HLH-6 Transcription Factor Regulates C. elegans Pharyngeal Gland Development and Function 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(10):e1000222.
The Caenorhabditis elegans pharynx (or foregut) functions as a pump that draws in food (bacteria) from the environment. While the “organ identity factor” PHA-4 is critical for formation of the C. elegans pharynx as a whole, little is known about the specification of distinct cell types within the pharynx. Here, we use a combination of bioinformatics, molecular biology, and genetics to identify a helix-loop-helix transcription factor (HLH-6) as a critical regulator of pharyngeal gland development. HLH-6 is required for expression of a number of gland-specific genes, acting through a discrete cis-regulatory element named PGM1 (Pharyngeal Gland Motif 1). hlh-6 mutants exhibit a frequent loss of a subset of glands, while the remaining glands have impaired activity, indicating a role for hlh-6 in both gland development and function. Interestingly, hlh-6 mutants are also feeding defective, ascribing a biological function for the glands. Pharyngeal pumping in hlh-6 mutants is normal, but hlh-6 mutants lack expression of a class of mucin-related proteins that are normally secreted by pharyngeal glands and line the pharyngeal cuticle. An interesting possibility is that one function of pharyngeal glands is to secrete a pharyngeal lining that ensures efficient transport of food along the pharyngeal lumen.
Author Summary
To make an organ, cells must be instructed to be part of a common structure yet must also be assigned specific roles or identities within that structure. For example, the stomach contains a variety of different kinds of cells, including muscles, nerves, and glands. This same complexity is seen even in relatively simple organs, like the pharynx (foregut) of the nematode C. elegans. The pharynx is a neuromuscular organ that pumps in food (bacteria) from the environment. This organ is relatively simple (containing only 80 cells) yet contains five distinct kinds of cells. How these different cells are specified is unclear but likely involves combinations of developmental regulators known as transcription factors. Here, we examine one cell type, the pharyngeal glands, and identify a key regulator of their development, the transcription factor HLH-6. Interestingly, HLH-6 is closely related to a mammalian transcription factor, Sgn1, which is involved in development of mammalian salivary glands, suggesting that C. elegans pharyngeal glands are evolutionarily related to mammalian salivary glands. A further connection is that the pharyngeal glands of C. elegans appear to be required for efficient feeding, possibly by secreting mucin-like proteins that ensure the smooth passage of food along the digestive tract.
PMCID: PMC2563036  PMID: 18927627

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