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1.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000739
PMCID: PMC2776306  PMID: 19956766
2.  The molecular basis for stability of heterochromatin-mediated silencing in mammals 
The archetypal epigenetic phenomenon of position effect variegation (PEV) in Drosophila occurs when a gene is brought abnormally close to heterochromatin, resulting in stochastic silencing of the affected gene in a proportion of cells that would normally express it. PEV has been instrumental in unraveling epigenetic mechanisms. Using an in vivo mammalian model for PEV we have extensively investigated the molecular basis for heterochromatin-mediated gene silencing. Here we distinguish 'epigenetic effects' from other cellular differences by studying ex vivo cells that are identical, apart from the expression of the variegating gene which is silenced in a proportion of the cells. By separating cells according to transgene expression we show here that silencing appears to be associated with histone H3 lysine 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3), DNA methylation and the localization of the silenced gene to a specific nuclear compartment enriched in these modifications. In contrast, histone H3 acetylation (H3Ac) and lysine 4 di or tri methylation (H3K4me2/3) are the predominant modifications associated with expression where we see the gene in a euchromatic compartment. Interestingly, DNA methylation and inaccessibility, rather than H3K9me3, correlated most strongly with resistance to de-repression by cellular activation. These results have important implications for understanding the contribution of specific factors involved in the establishment and maintenance of gene silencing and activation in vivo.
doi:10.1186/1756-8935-2-14
PMCID: PMC2779788  PMID: 19889207
3.  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.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddn163
PMCID: PMC2515372  PMID: 18541649

Results 1-3 (3)