Chromatin remodeling processes are among the most important regulatory mechanisms in controlling cell proliferation and regeneration. Drosophila intestinal stem cells (ISCs) exhibit self-renewal potentials, maintain tissue homeostasis, and serve as an excellent model for studying cell growth and regeneration. In this study, we show that Brahma (Brm) chromatin-remodeling complex is required for ISC proliferation and damage-induced midgut regeneration in a lineage-specific manner. ISCs and enteroblasts exhibit high levels of Brm proteins; and without Brm, ISC proliferation and differentiation are impaired. Importantly, the Brm complex participates in ISC proliferation induced by the Scalloped–Yorkie transcriptional complex and that the Hippo (Hpo) signaling pathway directly restricted ISC proliferation by regulating Brm protein levels by inducing caspase-dependent cleavage of Brm. The cleavage resistant form of Brm protein promoted ISC proliferation. Our findings highlighted the importance of Hpo signaling in regulating epigenetic components such as Brm to control downstream transcription and hence ISC proliferation.
Most tissues can generate new cells to repair damage or replace worn-out cells. The new cells are often generated from stem cells—cells that can either reproduce themselves or mature into other types of cells. In the fruit-fly Drosophila, for example, intestinal stem cells in the midgut are capable of producing more stem cells or they can differentiate to produce immature cells called enteroblasts that go on to become either enterocytes (the cells that line the gut) or enteroendocrine cells (which secrete hormones).
Researchers have identified a number of signalling pathways that are involved in the proliferation and differentiation of intestinal stem cells in the midgut of fruit flies. These include the Hippo pathway, which is important for regulating both cell proliferation and programmed cell death (apoptosis). Activation of the Hippo protein triggers a cascade of signals that culminate in the regulation of many of the genes involved in cell proliferation, division and apoptosis.
Another process that is important for controlling the proliferation and differentiation of cells is chromatin remodelling. Chromatin is the ‘packaging’ that keeps DNA tightly wound within the cell nucleus, and remodelling refers to the structural changes that allow proteins called transcription factors to reach the genes and transcribe them into messenger RNA (which then leaves the nucleus to generate the protein).
Now, Jin et al. have explored how the Hippo pathway and chromatin remodelling work together to regulate of stem cells. Using a technique called RNA interference to block the expression of various genes in intestinal stem cells and enteroblasts, Jin et al. found that a protein called Brahma—which is an essential part of a chromatin-remodelling complex—must be present for the stem cells to multiply normally.
Jin et al. also showed how the Hippo signalling pathway interacts with chromatin remodelling. Activation of the Hippo pathway inhibits gene expression by preventing two other proteins, Yorkie and Scalloped, from forming a complex in the nucleus. The new work shows that Brahma interacts physically with the Yorkie and Scalloped proteins to regulate the proliferation of the intestinal stem cells. It also shows that the Hippo protein regulates the activity of the Brahma protein by inducing a process called caspase-dependent cleavage. Because many of the proteins involved in these pathways are evolutionarily conserved and expressed in a variety of tissues, these findings may have implications for stem cell function and tissue repair in many species.