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1.  A Novel Mechanism for CTCF in the Epigenetic Regulation of Bax in Breast Cancer Cells12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2013;15(8):898-912.
We previously reported the association of elevated levels of the multifunctional transcription factor, CCCTC binding factor (CTCF), in breast cancer cells with the specific anti-apoptotic function of CTCF. To understand the molecular mechanisms of this phenomenon, we investigated regulation of the human Bax gene by CTCF in breast and non-breast cells. Two CTCF binding sites (CTSs) within the Bax promoter were identified. In all cells, breast and non-breast, active histone modifications were present at these CTSs, DNA harboring this region was unmethylated, and levels of Bax mRNA and protein were similar. Nevertheless, up-regulation of Bax mRNA and protein and apoptotic cell death were observed only in breast cancer cells depleted of CTCF. We proposed that increased CTCF binding to the Bax promoter in breast cancer cells, by comparison with non-breast cells, may be mechanistically linked to the specific apoptotic phenotype in CTCF-depleted breast cancer cells. In this study, we show that CTCF binding was enriched at the Bax CTSs in breast cancer cells and tumors; in contrast, binding of other transcription factors (SP1, WT1, EGR1, and c-Myc) was generally increased in non-breast cells and normal breast tissues. Our findings suggest a novel mechanism for CTCF in the epigenetic regulation of Bax in breast cancer cells, whereby elevated levels of CTCF support preferential binding of CTCF to the Bax CTSs. In this context, CTCF functions as a transcriptional repressor counteracting influences of positive regulatory factors; depletion of breast cancer cells from CTCF therefore results in the activation of Bax and apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC3730042  PMID: 23908591
2.  Induced DNA demethylation can reshape chromatin topology at the IGF2-H19 locus 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(10):5290-5302.
Choriocarcinomas are embryonal tumours with loss of imprinting and hypermethylation at the insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2)-H19 locus. The DNA methyltransferase inhibitor, 5-Aza-2′deoxycytidine (5-AzaCdR) is an approved epigenetic cancer therapy. However, it is not known to what extent 5-AzaCdR influences other epigenetic marks. In this study, we set out to determine whether 5-AzaCdR treatment can reprogram the epigenomic organization of the IGF2-H19 locus in a choriocarcinoma cancer cell line (JEG3). We found that localized DNA demethylation at the H19 imprinting control region (ICR) induced by 5-AzaCdR, reduced IGF2, increased H19 expression, increased CTCF and cohesin recruitment and changed histone modifications. Furthermore chromatin accessibility was increased locus-wide and chromatin looping topography was altered such that a CTCF site downstream of the H19 enhancers switched its association with the CTCF site upstream of the IGF2 promoters to associate with the ICR. We identified a stable chromatin looping domain, which forms independently of DNA methylation. This domain contains the IGF2 gene and is marked by a histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation block between CTCF site upstream of the IGF2 promoters and the Centrally Conserved Domain upstream of the ICR. Together, these data provide new insights into the responsiveness of chromatin topography to DNA methylation changes.
PMCID: PMC3664821  PMID: 23585276
3.  Quantitative analysis of DNA methylation at all human imprinted regions reveals preservation of epigenetic stability in adult somatic tissue 
Genes subject to genomic imprinting are mono-allelically expressed in a parent-of-origin dependent manner. Each imprinted locus has at least one differentially methylated region (DMR) which has allele specific DNA methylation and contributes to imprinted gene expression. Once DMRs are established, they are potentially able to withstand normal genome reprogramming events that occur during cell differentiation and germ-line DMRs are stably maintained throughout development. These DMRs, in addition to being either maternally or paternally methylated, have differences in whether methylation was acquired in the germ-line or post fertilization and are present in a variety of genomic locations with different Cytosine-phosphate guanine (CpG) densities and CTCF binding capacities. We therefore examined the stability of maintenance of DNA methylation imprints and determined the normal baseline DNA methylation levels in several adult tissues for all imprinted genes. In order to do this, we first developed and validated 50 highly specific, quantitative DNA methylation pyrosequencing assays for the known DMRs associated with human imprinted genes.
Remarkable stability of the DNA methylation imprint was observed in all germ-line DMRs and paternally methylated somatic DMRs (which maintained average methylation levels of between 35% - 65% in all somatic tissues, independent of gene expression). Maternally methylated somatic DMRs were found to have more variation with tissue specific methylation patterns. Most DMRs, however, showed some intra-individual variability for DNA methylation levels in peripheral blood, suggesting that more than one DMR needs to be examined in order to get an overall impression of the epigenetic stability in a tissue. The plasticity of DNA methylation at imprinted genes was examined in a panel of normal and cancer cell lines. All cell lines showed changes in DNA methylation, especially at the paternal germ-line and the somatic DMRs.
Our validated pyrosequencing methylation assays can be widely used as a tool to investigate DNA methylation levels of imprinted genes in clinical samples. This first comprehensive analysis of normal methylation levels in adult somatic tissues at human imprinted regions confirm that, despite intra-individual variability and tissue specific expression, imprinted genes faithfully maintain their DNA methylation in healthy adult tissue. DNA methylation levels of a selection of imprinted genes are, therefore, a valuable indicator for epigenetic stability.
PMCID: PMC3038880  PMID: 21281512
4.  Disruption of genomic neighbourhood at the imprinted IGF2-H19 locus in Beckwith–Wiedemann syndrome and Silver–Russell syndrome 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;20(7):1363-1374.
Hyper- and hypomethylation at the IGF2-H19 imprinting control region (ICR) result in reciprocal changes in IGF2-H19 expression and the two contrasting growth disorders, Beckwith–Wiedemann syndrome (BWS) and Silver–Russell syndrome (SRS). DNA methylation of the ICR controls the reciprocal imprinting of IGF2 and H19 by preventing the binding of the insulator protein, CTCF. We here show that local changes in histone modifications and CTCF–cohesin binding at the ICR in BWS and SRS together with DNA methylation correlate with the higher order chromatin structure at the locus. In lymphoblastoid cells from control individuals, we found the repressive histone H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 marks associated with the methylated paternal ICR allele and the bivalent H3K4me2/H3K27me3 mark together with H3K9ac and CTCF–cohesin associated with the non-methylated maternal allele. In patient-derived cell lines, the mat/pat asymmetric distribution of these epigenetic marks was lost with H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 becoming biallelic in the BWS and H3K4me2, H3K27me3 and H3K9ac together with CTCF–cohesin becoming biallelic in the SRS. We further show that in BWS and SRS cells, there is opposing chromatin looping conformation mediated by CTCF–cohesin binding sites surrounding the locus. In normal cells, lack of CTCF–cohesin binding at the paternal ICR is associated with monoallelic interaction between two CTCF sites flanking the locus. CTCF–cohesin binding at the maternal ICR blocks this interaction by associating with the CTCF site downstream of the enhancers. The two alternative chromatin conformations are differently favoured in BWS and SRS likely predisposing the locus to the activation of IGF2 or H19, respectively.
PMCID: PMC3049359  PMID: 21282187
5.  Evaluation of Allelic Expression of Imprinted Genes in Adult Human Blood 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13556.
Imprinted genes are expressed from only one allele in a parent-of-origin dependent manner. Loss of imprinted (LOI) expression can result in a variety of human disorders and is frequently reported in cancer. Biallelic expression of imprinted genes in adult blood has been suggested as a useful biomarker and is currently being investigated in colorectal cancer. In general, the expression profiles of imprinted genes are well characterised during human and mouse fetal development, but not in human adults.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We investigated quantitative expression of 36 imprinted genes in adult human peripheral blood leukocytes obtained from healthy individuals. Allelic expression was also investigated in B and T lymphocytes and myeloid cells. We found that 21 genes were essentially undetectable in adult blood. Only six genes were demonstrably monoallelic, and most importantly, we found that nine genes were either biallelic or showed variable expression in different individuals. Separated leukocyte populations showed the same expression patterns as whole blood. Differential methylation at each of the imprinting control loci analysed was maintained, including regions that contained biallelically expressed genes. This suggests in some cases methylation has become uncoupled from its role in regulating gene expression.
We conclude that only a limited set of imprinted genes, including IGF2 and SNRPN, may be useful for LOI cancer biomarker studies. In addition, blood is not a good tissue to use for the discovery of new imprinted genes. Finally, lymphocyte DNA methylation status in the adult may not always be a reliable indicator of monoallelic gene expression.
PMCID: PMC2958851  PMID: 21042416
6.  Mutational Analysis of the Poly(ADP-Ribosyl)ation Sites of the Transcription Factor CTCF Provides an Insight into the Mechanism of Its Regulation by Poly(ADP-Ribosyl)ation ▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2009;30(5):1199-1216.
Poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation of the conserved multifunctional transcription factor CTCF was previously identified as important to maintain CTCF insulator and chromatin barrier functions. However, the molecular mechanism of this regulation and also the necessity of this modification for other CTCF functions remain unknown. In this study, we identified potential sites of poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation within the N-terminal domain of CTCF and generated a mutant deficient in poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation. Using this CTCF mutant, we demonstrated the requirement of poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation for optimal CTCF function in transcriptional activation of the p19ARF promoter and inhibition of cell proliferation. By using a newly generated isogenic insulator reporter cell line, the CTCF insulator function at the mouse Igf2-H19 imprinting control region (ICR) was found to be compromised by the CTCF mutation. The association and simultaneous presence of PARP-1 and CTCF at the ICR, confirmed by single and serial chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, were found to be independent of CTCF poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation. These results suggest a model of CTCF regulation by poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation whereby CTCF and PARP-1 form functional complexes at sites along the DNA, producing a dynamic reversible modification of CTCF. By using bioinformatics tools, numerous sites of CTCF and PARP-1 colocalization were demonstrated, suggesting that such regulation of CTCF may take place at the genome level.
PMCID: PMC2820893  PMID: 20038529
7.  Cohesin Is Required for Higher-Order Chromatin Conformation at the Imprinted IGF2-H19 Locus 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(11):e1000739.
Cohesin is a chromatin-associated protein complex that mediates sister chromatid cohesion by connecting replicated DNA molecules. Cohesin also has important roles in gene regulation, but the mechanistic basis of this function is poorly understood. In mammalian genomes, cohesin co-localizes with CCCTC binding factor (CTCF), a zinc finger protein implicated in multiple gene regulatory events. At the imprinted IGF2-H19 locus, CTCF plays an important role in organizing allele-specific higher-order chromatin conformation and functions as an enhancer blocking transcriptional insulator. Here we have used chromosome conformation capture (3C) assays and RNAi–mediated depletion of cohesin to address whether cohesin affects higher order chromatin conformation at the IGF2-H19 locus in human cells. Our data show that cohesin has a critical role in maintaining CTCF–mediated chromatin conformation at the locus and that disruption of this conformation coincides with changes in IGF2 expression. We show that the cohesin-dependent, higher-order chromatin conformation of the locus exists in both G1 and G2 phases of the cell cycle and is therefore independent of cohesin's function in sister chromatid cohesion. We propose that cohesin can mediate interactions between DNA molecules in cis to insulate genes through the formation of chromatin loops, analogous to the cohesin mediated interaction with sister chromatids in trans to establish cohesion.
Author Summary
Recent work has shown that cohesin, a protein best known for its role in holding sister chromatids together, and CTCF, a protein implicated in the formation of chromatin loops, localize to the same regions of DNA in mammalian genomes. This observation raised the intriguing possibility that cohesin might facilitate the role of CTCF in structuring chromatin. CTCF is well known for its role in regulating genomic imprinting at the IGF2-H19 gene locus. Imprinted genes are widely studied due to their roles in fetal growth and cancer and have the unusual property of expressing only one parental copy of the gene. CTCF is thought to regulate imprinting of IGF2 and H19 by enabling DNA to form loops that separate the genes into silent or active domains. In this paper we describe, for the first time, the looping structure of the human IGF2-H19 locus and show that cohesin stabilises CTCF–mediated DNA loops. Depletion of cohesin leads to disruption of long-range chromatin interactions and changes expression levels of the IGF2 gene. This work adds a new level of understanding of how cohesin can play a role in gene expression.
PMCID: PMC2776306  PMID: 19956766
8.  Somatically acquired hypomethylation of IGF2 in breast and colorectal cancer 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;17(17):2633-2643.
The imprinted insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) gene is expressed predominantly from the paternal allele. Loss of imprinting (LOI) associated with hypomethylation at the promoter proximal sequence (DMR0) of the IGF2 gene was proposed as a predisposing constitutive risk biomarker for colorectal cancer. We used pyrosequencing to assess whether IGF2 DMR0 methylation is either present constitutively prior to cancer or whether it is acquired tissue-specifically after the onset of cancer. DNA samples from tumour tissues and matched non-tumour tissues from 22 breast and 42 colorectal cancer patients as well as peripheral blood samples obtained from colorectal cancer patients [SEARCH (n=case 192, controls 96)], breast cancer patients [ABC (n=case 364, controls 96)] and the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer [EPIC-Norfolk (n=breast 228, colorectal 225, controls 895)] were analysed. The EPIC samples were collected 2–5 years prior to diagnosis of breast or colorectal cancer. IGF2 DMR0 methylation levels in tumours were lower than matched non-tumour tissue. Hypomethylation of DMR0 was detected in breast (33%) and colorectal (80%) tumour tissues with a higher frequency than LOI indicating that methylation levels are a better indicator of cancer than LOI. In the EPIC population, the prevalence of IGF2 DMR0 hypomethylation was 9.5% and this correlated with increased age not cancer risk. Thus, IGF2 DMR0 hypomethylation occurs as an acquired tissue-specific somatic event rather than a constitutive innate epimutation. These results indicate that IGF2 DMR0 hypomethylation has diagnostic potential for colon cancer rather than value as a surrogate biomarker for constitutive LOI.
PMCID: PMC2515372  PMID: 18541649
9.  Generation of a genomic tiling array of the human Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) and its application for DNA methylation analysis 
BMC Medical Genomics  2008;1:19.
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is essential for human immunity and is highly associated with common diseases, including cancer. While the genetics of the MHC has been studied intensively for many decades, very little is known about the epigenetics of this most polymorphic and disease-associated region of the genome.
To facilitate comprehensive epigenetic analyses of this region, we have generated a genomic tiling array of 2 Kb resolution covering the entire 4 Mb MHC region. The array has been designed to be compatible with chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), methylated DNA immunoprecipitation (MeDIP), array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH) and expression profiling, including of non-coding RNAs. The array comprises 7832 features, consisting of two replicates of both forward and reverse strands of MHC amplicons and appropriate controls.
Using MeDIP, we demonstrate the application of the MHC array for DNA methylation profiling and the identification of tissue-specific differentially methylated regions (tDMRs). Based on the analysis of two tissues and two cell types, we identified 90 tDMRs within the MHC and describe their characterisation.
A tiling array covering the MHC region was developed and validated. Its successful application for DNA methylation profiling indicates that this array represents a useful tool for molecular analyses of the MHC in the context of medical genomics.
PMCID: PMC2430202  PMID: 18513384
10.  Distinct Methylation Changes at the IGF2-H19 Locus in Congenital Growth Disorders and Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(3):e1849.
Differentially methylated regions (DMRs) are associated with many imprinted genes. In mice methylation at a DMR upstream of the H19 gene known as the Imprint Control region (IC1) is acquired in the male germline and influences the methylation status of DMRs 100 kb away in the adjacent Insulin-like growth factor 2 (Igf2) gene through long-range interactions. In humans, germline-derived or post-zygotically acquired imprinting defects at IC1 are associated with aberrant activation or repression of IGF2, resulting in the congenital growth disorders Beckwith-Wiedemann (BWS) and Silver-Russell (SRS) syndromes, respectively. In Wilms tumour and colorectal cancer, biallelic expression of IGF2 has been observed in association with loss of methylation at a DMR in IGF2. This DMR, known as DMR0, has been shown to be methylated on the silent maternal IGF2 allele presumably with a role in repression. The effect of IGF2 DMR0 methylation changes in the aetiology of BWS or SRS is unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We analysed the methylation status of the DMR0 in BWS, SRS and Wilms tumour patients by conventional bisulphite sequencing and pyrosequencing. We show here that, contrary to previous reports, the IGF2 DMR0 is actually methylated on the active paternal allele in peripheral blood and kidney. This is similar to the IC1 methylation status and is inconsistent with the proposed silencing function of the maternal IGF2 allele. Beckwith-Wiedemann and Silver-Russell patients with IC1 methylation defects have similar methylation defects at the IGF2 DMR0, consistent with IC1 regulating methylation at IGF2 in cis. In Wilms tumour, however, methylation profiles of IC1 and IGF2 DMR0 are indicative of methylation changes occurring on both parental alleles rather than in cis.
These results support a model in which DMR0 and IC1 have opposite susceptibilities to global hyper and hypomethylation during tumorigenesis independent of the parent of origin imprint. In contrast, during embryogenesis DMR0 is methylated or demethylated according to the germline methylation imprint at the IC1, indicating different mechanisms of imprinting loss in neoplastic and non-neoplastic cells.
PMCID: PMC2268001  PMID: 18365005
11.  Genomic Imprinting Controls Matrix Attachment Regions in the Igf2 Gene 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(24):8953-8959.
Genomic imprinting at the Igf2/H19 locus originates from allele-specific DNA methylation, which modifies the affinity of some proteins for their target sequences. Here, we show that AT-rich DNA sequences located in the vicinity of previously characterized differentially methylated regions (DMRs) of the imprinted Igf2 gene are conserved between mouse and human. These sequences have all the characteristics of matrix attachment regions (MARs), which are known as versatile regulatory elements involved in chromatin structure and gene expression. Combining allele-specific nuclear matrix binding assays and real-time PCR quantification, we show that retention of two of these Igf2 MARs (MAR0 and MAR2) in the nuclear matrix fraction depends on the tissue and is specific to the paternal allele. Furthermore, on this allele, the Igf2 MAR2 is functionally linked to the neighboring DMR2 while, on the maternal allele, it is controlled by the imprinting-control region. Our work clearly demonstrates that genomic imprinting controls matrix attachment regions in the Igf2 gene.
PMCID: PMC309645  PMID: 14645508
12.  Binding Interactions between Long Noncoding RNA HOTAIR and PRC2 Proteins 
Biochemistry  2013;52(52):9519-9527.
Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) play a key role in the epigenetic regulation of cells. Many of these lncRNAs function by interacting with histone repressive proteins of the Polycomb group (PcG) family, recruiting them to gene loci to facilitate silencing. Although there are now many RNAs known to interact with the PRC2 complex, little is known about the details of the molecular interactions. Here, we show that the PcG protein heterodimer EZH2-EED is necessary and sufficient for binding to the lncRNA HOTAIR. We also show that protein recognition occurs within a folded 89-mer domain of HOTAIR. This 89-mer represents a minimal binding motif, as further deletion of nucleotides results in substantial loss of affinity for PRC2. These findings provide molecular insights into an important system involved in epigenetic regulation.
PMCID: PMC3964825  PMID: 24320048

Results 1-12 (12)