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1.  The Emerging Role of the MORF/MRG Gene Family in Various Biological Processes Including Aging 
Cellular senescence is the dominant phenotype over immortality. In our studies to identify senescence related genes we cloned Morf4 that induced senescence in a subset of tumor cells. Morf4 is a member of a family of 7 genes, and the Morf related genes (Mrg) on chromosomes 15 (Mrg15) and X (MrgX) are also expressed. In contrast to MORF4, MRG15 and MRGX are positive regulators of cell division. All three proteins interact with histone acetylases (HATs) and acetyltransferase (HDACs), suggesting they function in regulation of chromatin dynamics. Mrg15 knockout mice are embryonic lethal, and MEFs derived from Mrg15 null embryos proliferate poorly, enter senescence rapidly and have impaired DNA repair compared to wild type. Mrg15 null embryonic neural stem/progenitor cells also have a decreased capacity for proliferation and differentiation. Further studies are needed to determine the function of this gene family in various biological processes including neural stem/progenitor cell aging.
PMCID: PMC2918256  PMID: 20536842
cellular senescence; Mrg (Morf related genes); MRG15 (Morf related gene on chromosome 15); chromatin remodelling; neural stem/progenitor cells; proliferation; differentiation; DNA damage; aging
2.  MRG15 activates the cdc2 promoter via histone acetylation in human cells 
Experimental cell research  2011;317(11):1534-1540.
Chromatin remodeling is required for transcriptional activation and repression. MRG15 (MORF4L1), a chromatin modulator, is a highly conserved protein and is present in complexes containing histone acetyltransferases (HATs) as well as histone deacetylases (HDACs). Loss of expression of MRG15 in mice and Drosophila results in embryonic lethality and fibroblast and neural stem/progenitor cells cultured from Mrg15 null mouse embryos exhibit marked proliferative defects when compared with wild type cells. To determine the role of MRG15 in cell cycle progression we performed chromatin immunoprecipitation with an antibody to MRG15 on normal human fibroblasts as they entered the cell cycle from a quiescent state, and analyzed various cell cycle gene promoters. The results demonstrated a 3-fold increase in MRG15 occupancy at the cdc2 promoter during S phase of the cell cycle and a concomitant increase in acetylated histone H4. H4 lysine 12 was acetylated at 24 hours post serum stimulation while there was no change in acetylation of lysine 16. HDAC1 and 2 were decreased at this promoter during cell cycle progression. Over-expression of MRG15 in HeLa cells activated a cdc2 promoter-reporter construct in a dose dependent manner, whereas knockdown of MRG15 resulted in decreased promoter activity. In order to implicate HAT activity, we treated cells with the HAT inhibitor anacardic acid and determined that HAT inhibition results in loss of expression of cdc2 mRNA. Further, chromatin immunoprecipitation with Tip60 localizes the protein to the same 110 bp stretch of the cdc2 promoter pulled down by MRG15. Additionally, we determined that co-transfection of MRG15 with the known associated HAT Tip60 had a cooperative effect in activating the cdc2 promoter. These results suggest that MRG15 is acting in a HAT complex involving Tip60 to modify chromatin via acetylation of histone H4 at the cdc2 promoter to activate transcription.
PMCID: PMC3410549  PMID: 21324423
MRG15; Tip60; cdc2; normal human fibroblasts
3.  Loss of the chromatin regulator MRG15 limits neural stem/progenitor cell proliferation via increased expression of the p21 Cdk inhibitor 
Stem cell research  2011;7(1):75-88.
Chromatin regulation is crucial for many biological processes such as transcriptional regulation, DNA replication, and DNA damage repair. We have found it is also important for neural stem/progenitor cell (NSC) function and neurogenesis. Here, we demonstrate that expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 is specifically up-regulated in Mrg15 deficient NSCs. Knockdown of p21 expression by p21 shRNA results in restoration of cell proliferation. This indicates that p21 is directly involved in the growth defects observed in Mrg15 deficient NSCs. Activated p53 accumulates in Mrg15 deficient NSCs and this most likely accounts for the up-regulation of p21 expression in the cells. We observed decreased p53 and p21 levels and a concomitant increase in the percentage of BrdU positive cells in Mrg15 null cultures following expression of p53 shRNA. DNA damage foci, as indicated by immunostaining for γH2AX and 53BP1, are detectable in a sub-population of Mrg15 deficient NSC cultures under normal growing conditions and the majority of p21-positive cells are also positive for 53BP1 foci. Furthermore, Mrg15 deficient NSCs exhibit severe defects in DNA damage response following ionizing radiation. Our observations highlight the importance of chromatin regulation and DNA damage response in NSC function and maintenance.
PMCID: PMC3130620  PMID: 21621175
. Neural precursor cell; cell proliferation; chromatin; epigenetics; gene expression; DNA damage response
4.  Conditional inactivation of MRG15 gene function limits survival during larval and adult stages of Drosophila melanogaster 
Experimental gerontology  2010;45(11):825-833.
The mammalian MRG15 gene encodes a chromodomain protein predicted to bind to chromatin via methylated histone tails. Human MORF4 encodes a related but truncated protein that is capable of promoting cellular senescence in a subset of human tumor cell lines. Drosophila contains a single homolog of human MRG15, called DmMRG15. Null mutation of MRG15 is embryonic lethal in mice and Drosophila, making study of MRG15 requirements in adults difficult. In these studies the DmMRG15 gene was over-expressed in Drosophila, during developmental stages and in adults, using a doxycycline-regulated system (Tet-on). In addition an inverted-repeated construct was designed to inactivate DmMRG15 via the RNAi pathway, and RNAi constructs were expressed using both the Tet-on system and Geneswitch system. The DmMRG15 protein was readily expressed in adult flies in a doxycycline-dependent manner. A truncated form of DmMRG15 (called DmMT1) was designed to mimic the structure of human MORF4, and expression of this mutant protein or the inverted repeat constructs inhibited fertility in females. Conditional expression of the DmMRG15 inverted-repeat constructs during larval development or in adults caused reductions in survival. These experiments indicate that Drosophila DmMRG15 gene function is required for female fertility, larval survival and adult life span, and provide reagents that should be useful for further dissecting the role of DmMRG15 in cell proliferation and aging.
PMCID: PMC2952352  PMID: 20600782
senescence; chromatin; epigenetics; stem cells; aging
5.  Exploring the link between MORF4L1 and risk of breast cancer 
Martrat, Griselda | Maxwell, Christopher A | Tominaga, Emiko | Porta-de-la-Riva, Montserrat | Bonifaci, Núria | Gómez-Baldó, Laia | Bogliolo, Massimo | Lázaro, Conxi | Blanco, Ignacio | Brunet, Joan | Aguilar, Helena | Fernández-Rodríguez, Juana | Seal, Sheila | Renwick, Anthony | Rahman, Nazneen | Kühl, Julia | Neveling, Kornelia | Schindler, Detlev | Ramírez, María J | Castellà, María | Hernández, Gonzalo | Easton, Douglas F | Peock, Susan | Cook, Margaret | Oliver, Clare T | Frost, Debra | Platte, Radka | Evans, D Gareth | Lalloo, Fiona | Eeles, Rosalind | Izatt, Louise | Chu, Carol | Davidson, Rosemarie | Ong, Kai-Ren | Cook, Jackie | Douglas, Fiona | Hodgson, Shirley | Brewer, Carole | Morrison, Patrick J | Porteous, Mary | Peterlongo, Paolo | Manoukian, Siranoush | Peissel, Bernard | Zaffaroni, Daniela | Roversi, Gaia | Barile, Monica | Viel, Alessandra | Pasini, Barbara | Ottini, Laura | Putignano, Anna Laura | Savarese, Antonella | Bernard, Loris | Radice, Paolo | Healey, Sue | Spurdle, Amanda | Chen, Xiaoqing | Beesley, Jonathan | Rookus, Matti A | Verhoef, Senno | Tilanus-Linthorst, Madeleine A | Vreeswijk, Maaike P | Asperen, Christi J | Bodmer, Danielle | Ausems, Margreet GEM | van Os, Theo A | Blok, Marinus J | Meijers-Heijboer, Hanne EJ | Hogervorst, Frans BL | Goldgar, David E | Buys, Saundra | John, Esther M | Miron, Alexander | Southey, Melissa | Daly, Mary B | Harbst, Katja | Borg, Åke | Rantala, Johanna | Barbany-Bustinza, Gisela | Ehrencrona, Hans | Stenmark-Askmalm, Marie | Kaufman, Bella | Laitman, Yael | Milgrom, Roni | Friedman, Eitan | Domchek, Susan M | Nathanson, Katherine L | Rebbeck, Timothy R | Johannsson, Oskar Thor | Couch, Fergus J | Wang, Xianshu | Fredericksen, Zachary | Cuadras, Daniel | Moreno, Víctor | Pientka, Friederike K | Depping, Reinhard | Caldés, Trinidad | Osorio, Ana | Benítez, Javier | Bueren, Juan | Heikkinen, Tuomas | Nevanlinna, Heli | Hamann, Ute | Torres, Diana | Caligo, Maria Adelaide | Godwin, Andrew K | Imyanitov, Evgeny N | Janavicius, Ramunas | Sinilnikova, Olga M | Stoppa-Lyonnet, Dominique | Mazoyer, Sylvie | Verny-Pierre, Carole | Castera, Laurent | de Pauw, Antoine | Bignon, Yves-Jean | Uhrhammer, Nancy | Peyrat, Jean-Philippe | Vennin, Philippe | Ferrer, Sandra Fert | Collonge-Rame, Marie-Agnès | Mortemousque, Isabelle | McGuffog, Lesley | Chenevix-Trench, Georgia | Pereira-Smith, Olivia M | Antoniou, Antonis C | Cerón, Julián | Tominaga, Kaoru | Surrallés, Jordi | Pujana, Miguel Angel
Proteins encoded by Fanconi anemia (FA) and/or breast cancer (BrCa) susceptibility genes cooperate in a common DNA damage repair signaling pathway. To gain deeper insight into this pathway and its influence on cancer risk, we searched for novel components through protein physical interaction screens.
Protein physical interactions were screened using the yeast two-hybrid system. Co-affinity purifications and endogenous co-immunoprecipitation assays were performed to corroborate interactions. Biochemical and functional assays in human, mouse and Caenorhabditis elegans models were carried out to characterize pathway components. Thirteen FANCD2-monoubiquitinylation-positive FA cell lines excluded for genetic defects in the downstream pathway components and 300 familial BrCa patients negative for BRCA1/2 mutations were analyzed for genetic mutations. Common genetic variants were genotyped in 9,573 BRCA1/2 mutation carriers for associations with BrCa risk.
A previously identified co-purifying protein with PALB2 was identified, MRG15 (MORF4L1 gene). Results in human, mouse and C. elegans models delineate molecular and functional relationships with BRCA2, PALB2, RAD51 and RPA1 that suggest a role for MRG15 in the repair of DNA double-strand breaks. Mrg15-deficient murine embryonic fibroblasts showed moderate sensitivity to γ-irradiation relative to controls and reduced formation of Rad51 nuclear foci. Examination of mutants of MRG15 and BRCA2 C. elegans orthologs revealed phenocopy by accumulation of RPA-1 (human RPA1) nuclear foci and aberrant chromosomal compactions in meiotic cells. However, no alterations or mutations were identified for MRG15/MORF4L1 in unclassified FA patients and BrCa familial cases. Finally, no significant associations between common MORF4L1 variants and BrCa risk for BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carriers were identified: rs7164529, Ptrend = 0.45 and 0.05, P2df = 0.51 and 0.14, respectively; and rs10519219, Ptrend = 0.92 and 0.72, P2df = 0.76 and 0.07, respectively.
While the present study expands on the role of MRG15 in the control of genomic stability, weak associations cannot be ruled out for potential low-penetrance variants at MORF4L1 and BrCa risk among BRCA2 mutation carriers.
PMCID: PMC3219203  PMID: 21466675
6.  The cell senescence inducing gene product MORF4 is regulated by degradation via the ubiquitin/proteasome pathway 
Experimental cell research  2009;316(1):92-102.
After undergoing several rounds of divisions normal human fibroblasts enter a terminally non-dividing state referred to as cellular or replicative senescence. We cloned MORF4 (mortality factor on human chromosome 4), as a cellular senescence inducing gene that caused immortal cells assigned to complementation group B for indefinite division to stop dividing. To facilitate analyses of this gene, which is toxic to cells at low levels, we obtained stable clones of HeLa cells expressing a tetracycline-induced MORF4 construct that could be induced by doxycycline in a dose-dependent manner. MORF4 induction resulted in reduced colony formation after 14 days of culture, as previously observed. We determined that MORF4 protein was unstable and that addition of the proteasome inhibitor MG132 resulted in accumulation of the protein. Following removal of MG132 the protein was rapidly degraded. Subcellular fractionation following MG132 treatment demonstrated that the protein accumulates primarily in the cytoplasm with some amounts present in the nucleus. It is therefore possible that MORF4 protein, which escapes degradation in the cytoplasm, is transported to the nucleus where it is functional. The results suggest that levels of MORF4 in cells must be tightly controlled and one mechanism involves stability of the protein.
PMCID: PMC2787921  PMID: 19769966
cellular senescence; protein stability; proteasome; ubiquitin; chromatin
7.  MRG15, a component of HAT and HDAC complexes, is essential for proliferation and differentiation of neural precursor cells 
Journal of neuroscience research  2009;87(7):1522-1531.
Neurogenesis during development depends on the coordinated regulation of self-renewal and differentiation of neural precursor cells. Chromatin regulation is a key step in self-renewal activity and fate decision of neural precursor cells. However, the molecular mechanism(s) of this regulation is not fully understood. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that MRG15, a chromatin regulator, is important for proliferation and neural fate decision of neural precursor cells. Neuroepithelia from Mrg15 deficient embryonic brain are much thinner than those from control, and apoptotic cells increase in this region. We isolated neural precursor cells from Mrg15 deficient and wild-type embryonic whole brains and produced neurospheres to measure the self-renewal and differentiation abilities of these cells in vitro. Neurospheres culture from Mrg15 deficient embryo grew less-efficiently than those from wild-type. Measurement of proliferation, using BrdU incorporation, revealed that Mrg15 deficient neural precursor cells have reduced proliferation ability and apoptotic cells do not increase during in vitro culture. The reduced proliferation of Mrg15 deficient neural precursor cells most likely accounts for the thinner neuroepithelia in Mrg15 deficient embryonic brain. Moreover, we also demonstrate Mrg15 deficient neural precursor cells are defective in differentiation into neurons in vitro. Our results demonstrate that MRG15 has more than one function in neurogenesis and defines a novel role for this chromatin regulator that integrates proliferation and cell-fate determination in neurogenesis during development.
PMCID: PMC2913448  PMID: 19115414
Neural precursor cell; development; chromatin; epigenetics; gene expression
8.  Regulation of Alternative Splicing by Histone Modifications 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2010;327(5968):996-1000.
Alternative splicing of pre-mRNA is a prominent mechanism to generate protein diversity, yet its regulation is poorly understood. We demonstrated a direct role for histone modifications in alternative splicing. We found distinctive histone modification signatures that correlate with the splicing outcome in a set of human genes, and modulation of histone modifications causes splice site switching. Histone marks affect splicing outcome by influencing the recruitment of splicing regulators via a chromatin-binding protein. These results outline an adaptor system for the reading of histone marks by the pre-mRNA splicing machinery.
PMCID: PMC2913848  PMID: 20133523
9.  Mrg15 null and heterozygous mouse embryonic fibroblasts exhibit DNA repair defects post exposure to gamma ionizing radiation 
FEBS letters  2007;581(27):5275-5281.
MRG15 is a core component of the NuA4/Tip60 histone acetyltransferase complex that modifies chromatin structure. We here demonstrate that Mrg15 null and heterozygous mouse embryonic fibroblasts exhibit an impaired DNA damage response post gamma irradiation, when compared to wild-type cells. Defects in DNA repair and cell growth, and delayed recruitment of repair proteins to sites of damage were observed. Formation of phosphorylated H2AX and 53BP1 foci was delayed in Mrg15 mutant versus wild-type cells following irradiation. These data implicate a novel role for MRG15 in DNA damage repair in mammalian cells.
PMCID: PMC2132445  PMID: 17961556
MORF4; NuA4; Sin3-HDAC; ATM; 53BP1
10.  Primary and Compensatory Roles for RB Family Members at Cell Cycle Gene Promoters That Are Deacetylated and Downregulated in Doxorubicin-Induced Senescence of Breast Cancer Cells 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2006;26(7):2501-2510.
When treated with DNA-damaging chemotherapy agents, many cancer cells, in vivo and in vitro, undergo a terminal growth arrest and acquire a senescence-like phenotype. We investigated the molecular basis for this in breast cancer cells following a 2-hour treatment with 1 μM doxorubicin. Treated cells arrested in G1 and G2 phases of the cell cycle, with concomitant reductions in S-phase and G2-M regulatory genes. p53 and p21 protein levels increased within hours after treatment and were maintained for 5 to 6 days but were reduced 8 days posttreatment, though the cells remained growth arrested. Levels of p130 rose after drug treatment, and it was the primary RB family member recruited to the S-phase promoters cyclin A and PCNA and G2-M promoters cyclin B and cdc2, remaining present for the entire 8-day time period. In contrast, p107 protein and promoter occupancy levels declined sharply after drug treatment. RB was recruited to only the PCNA promoter. In MCF-7 cells with p130 knockdown, p107 compensated for p130 loss at all cell cycle gene promoters examined, allowing cells to retain the growth arrest phenotype. Cells with p130 and p107 knockdown similarly arrested, while cells with knockdown of all three family members failed to downregulate cyclin A and cyclin B. These results demonstrate a mechanistic role for p130 and compensatory roles for p107 and RB in the long-term senescence-like growth arrest response of breast cancer cells to DNA damage.
PMCID: PMC1430319  PMID: 16537896
11.  MrgX Is Not Essential for Cell Growth and Development in the Mouse 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(12):4873-4880.
MRGX is one of the members of MORF4/MRG family of transcriptional regulators, which are involved in cell growth regulation and cellular senescence. We have shown that MRGX and MRG15 associate with Rb in nucleoprotein complexes and regulate B-myb promoter activity. To elucidate the functions of MRGX and to explore its potential role in modulating cell growth in vivo, we have generated MrgX-deficient mice. Characterization of the expression pattern of mouse MrgX demonstrated it was ubiquitously expressed in all tissues of adult mice and also during embryogenesis and overlapped with its homolog Mrg15. MRGX and MRG15 proteins localize predominantly to the chromatin fraction in the nucleus, although a small amount of both proteins localized to the nuclear matrix. Whereas disruption of Mrg15 results in embryonic lethality, absence of MrgX did not impair mouse development and MrgX null mice are healthy and fertile. MrgX-deficient and wild-type mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) also had similar growth rates and showed no differences in cell cycle-related gene expression in response to serum stimulation. Mrg15 expression in MrgX-deficient tissues and MEFs was not upregulated compared with wild-type tissues and MEFs. MRG15 is highly conserved with orthologs present from humans to yeast and is essential for survival of mice. In contrast, MRGX, which evolved later, is expressed only in vertebrates, suggesting that the lack of phenotype of MrgX-deficient mice is secondary to a compensatory effect by the evolutionarily conserved MRG15 protein but not vice versa.
PMCID: PMC1140578  PMID: 15923606
12.  The Minimal Set of Genetic Alterations Required for Conversion of Primary Human Fibroblasts to Cancer Cells in the Subrenal Capsule Assay1 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2005;7(6):585-593.
Based on previous studies, a minimal set of genetic alterations that is required to convert normal human fibroblasts into cancer cells has been defined. Essential roles for telomere maintenance and alterations in phosphatase 2A activity were inferred from experiments in which tumorigenicity was tested by injecting cells under the skin of immunodeficient mice. However, in the present experiments, the combination of SV40 large T antigen and activated Ras, without hTERT or SV40 small t antigen, was sufficient to convert nine different primary human fibroblast cell strains to a fully malignant state. The malignant behavior of the cells was demonstrated by growth of the cells into invasive tumors when the cells were injected beneath the kidney capsule of immunodeficient mice. Lung metastases and circulating tumor cells were also detected. These tumors were not immortal; cells entered crisis, from which they could be rescued by expression of hTERT. However, the same cell populations were not tumorigenic when they were injected under the skin. In this site, tumorigenicity required the expression of hTERT and SV40 small t antigen as well as SV40 large T antigen and Ras. The cellular pathways targeted by SV40 large T antigen (p53 and pRb) and those targeted by activated Ras represent a minimal set of genetic alterations required for the conversion of normal human fibroblasts into cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC1501282  PMID: 16036109
replicative senescence; crisis; telomeres; human fibroblasts; immunodeficient mice
13.  MRG15 Regulates Embryonic Development and Cell Proliferation 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(8):2924-2937.
MRG15 is a highly conserved protein, and orthologs exist in organisms from yeast to humans. MRG15 associates with at least two nucleoprotein complexes that include histone acetyltransferases and/or histone deacetylases, suggesting it is involved in chromatin remodeling. To study the role of MRG15 in vivo, we generated knockout mice and determined that the phenotype is embryonic lethal, with embryos and the few stillborn pups exhibiting developmental delay. Immunohistochemical analysis indicates that apoptosis in Mrg15−/− embryos is not increased compared with wild-type littermates. However, the number of proliferating cells is significantly reduced in various tissues of the smaller null embryos compared with control littermates. Cell proliferation defects are also observed in Mrg15−/− mouse embryonic fibroblasts. The hearts of the Mrg15−/− embryos exhibit some features of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The increase in size of the cardiomyocytes is most likely a response to decreased growth of the cells. Mrg15−/− embryos appeared pale, and microarray analysis revealed that α-globin gene expression was decreased in null versus wild-type embryos. We determined by chromatin immunoprecipitation that MRG15 was recruited to the α-globin promoter during dimethyl sulfoxide-induced mouse erythroleukemia cell differentiation. These findings demonstrate that MRG15 has an essential role in embryonic development via chromatin remodeling and transcriptional regulation.
PMCID: PMC1069611  PMID: 15798182
14.  PAM14, a Novel MRG- and Rb-Associated Protein, Is Not Required for Development and T-Cell Function in Mice 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(19):8366-8373.
PAM14 has been found to associate in complexes with the MORF4/MRG family of proteins as well as Rb, the tumor suppressor protein. This suggested that it might be involved in cell growth, immortalization, and/or senescence. To elucidate the in vivo function of PAM14, we characterized the expression pattern of mouse Pam14 and generated PAM14-deficient (Pam14−/−) mice. Pam14 was widely expressed in all mouse tissues and as early as 7 days during embryonic development. Despite this ubiquitous expression in wild-type mice, Pam14−/− mice were healthy and fertile. Response to mitogenic stimulation and production of interleukin-2 were the same in stimulated splenic T cells from Pam14−/− mice as in control littermates. Cell growth rates of mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) from all three genotypes were the same, and immortalized cells were obtained from all cell cultures during continuous culture. There was also no difference in expression of growth-related genes in response to serum stimulation in the null versus control MEFs. These data demonstrate that PAM14 is not essential for normal mouse development and cell cycle control. PAM14 likely acts as an adaptor protein in nucleoprotein complexes and is probably compensated for by another functionally redundant protein(s).
PMCID: PMC516751  PMID: 15367658

Results 1-14 (14)