The diverse transcriptional mechanisms governing cellular differentiation and development of mammalian tissue remains poorly understood. Here we report that TAF7L, a paralogue of TFIID subunit TAF7, is enriched in adipocytes and white fat tissue (WAT) in mouse. Depletion of TAF7L reduced adipocyte-specific gene expression, compromised adipocyte differentiation, and WAT development as well. Ectopic expression of TAF7L in myoblasts reprograms these muscle precursors into adipocytes upon induction. Genome-wide mRNA-seq expression profiling and ChIP-seq binding studies confirmed that TAF7L is required for activating adipocyte-specific genes via a dual mechanism wherein it interacts with PPARγ at enhancers and TBP/Pol II at core promoters. In vitro binding studies confirmed that TAF7L forms complexes with both TBP and PPARγ. These findings suggest that TAF7L plays an integral role in adipocyte gene expression by targeting enhancers as a cofactor for PPARγ and promoters as a component of the core transcriptional machinery.
The development of a single fertilized egg into a highly complex animal is determined by its genome, with a process called differential gene regulation exerting exquisite control over gene expression to ensure that various specialized cells are generated and that many types of tissue are produced. However, the mechanisms responsible for controlling gene expression and, therefore mammalian development, are poorly understood.
Researchers have developed a number of in vitro cell culture models to elucidate the details of differential gene regulation, and this approach has been used to characterize adipocytes—cells that store energy in the form of fat—for close to two decades. The formation of adipocytes, a process known as adipogenesis, has been extensively studied, but there remain major gaps in our knowledge: for example, the identities of many of the transcriptional regulators that are responsible for the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells into adipocytes remain a mystery. This task is complicated by the fact that some of these regulators are involved in the differentiation of multiple cell lines, and that some of them also have multiple roles in the generation of a single cell type. In addition to being of fundamental interest, improving our knowledge of the properties and behavior of adipocytes is essential for tackling the increasing prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
Zhou et al. now report that TAF7L—a gene that was previously thought to be involved only in the production of sperm cells—has two roles in the differentiation of stem cells to form adipocytes. Using a combination of cellular, biochemical, genetic and genomic techniques, they show that TAF7L interacts with PPARγ, an important adipocyte transcriptional regulator at enhancer sites on the genome to increase the transcription of genes that are involved in adipogenesis. They also show that TAF7L interacts with a general transcription factor called TBP (short for TATA-binding protein) at promoter sequences, again to increase the expression of genes involved in adipogenesis. Moreover, they show that the expression of TAF7L in myoblasts—precursor cells that usually become muscle cells—can induce the formation of fat cells rather than muscle cells. Furthermore, mice lacking TAF7L are lean compared to their normal littermates. A clearer understanding of the underlying causes of fat cell formation could lead to the development of new approaches for the treatment of obesity and associated diseases.