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1.  Germline Signals Deploy NHR-49 to Modulate Fatty-Acid β-Oxidation and Desaturation in Somatic Tissues of C. elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004829.
In C. elegans, removal of the germline extends lifespan significantly. We demonstrate that the nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-49, enables the response to this physiological change by increasing the expression of genes involved in mitochondrial β-oxidation and fatty-acid desaturation. The coordinated augmentation of these processes is critical for germline-less animals to maintain their lipid stores and to sustain de novo fat synthesis during adulthood. Following germline ablation, NHR-49 is up-regulated in somatic cells by the conserved longevity determinants DAF-16/FOXO and TCER-1/TCERG1. Accordingly, NHR-49 overexpression in fertile animals extends their lifespan modestly. In fertile adults, nhr-49 expression is DAF-16/FOXO and TCER-1/TCERG1 independent although its depletion causes age-related lipid abnormalities. Our data provide molecular insights into how reproductive stimuli are integrated into global metabolic changes to alter the lifespan of the animal. They suggest that NHR-49 may facilitate the adaptation to loss of reproductive potential through synchronized enhancement of fatty-acid oxidation and desaturation, thus breaking down some fats ordained for reproduction and orchestrating a lipid profile conducive for somatic maintenance and longevity.
Author Summary
Much is known about how increasing age impairs fertility but we know little about how reproduction influences rate of aging in animals. Studies in model organisms such as worms and flies have begun to shed light on this relationship. In worms, removing germ cells that give rise to sperm and oocytes extends lifespan, increases endurance and elevates fat. Fat metabolism and hormonal signals play major roles in this lifespan augmentation but the genetic mechanisms involved are poorly understood. We show that a gene, nhr-49, enhances worm lifespan following germ-cell removal. NHR-49 is increased in animals that lack germ cells by conserved longevity proteins, DAF-16 and TCER-1. NHR-49, in turn, increases levels of genes that help burn fat and convert saturated fats into unsaturated forms. Through synchronized enhancement of these processes, NHR-49 helps eliminate excess fat delegated for reproduction and converts lipids into forms that favor a long life. NHR-49 impacts these processes during aging in normal animals too, but using different regulatory mechanisms. Our data helps understand how normal lipid metabolic processes can be harnessed to adapt to physiological fluctuations brought on by changes in the reproductive status of animals.
PMCID: PMC4256272  PMID: 25474470
2.  Reciprocal intronic and exonic histone modification regions in humans 
Nature structural & molecular biology  2010;17(12):1495-1499.
While much attention has been focused on chromatin at promoters and exons, human genes are mostly composed of intronic sequences. Analyzing published surveys of nucleosomes and 41 chromatin marks in humans, we identified histone modifications specifically associated with 5′ intronic sequences, distinguishable from promoter marks and bulk nucleosomes. These intronic marks were spatially reciprocal to H3K36me3, typically transitioning near internal exons. Several marks transitioned near bona fide exons, but not near nucleosomes at exon-like sequences. Thus, we interrogated splicing for a role in histone marking. Despite dramatic changes in regulated alternative splicing, histone marks were stable. Notably, these findings are consistent with a role for exon definition in influencing histone marks. In summary, we demonstrate that the location of many intragenic marks in humans can be distilled into a simple organizing principle: association with 5′ intronic or 3′ exonic regions.
PMCID: PMC3057557  PMID: 21057525
DOT1; BRE1; RNF20; SET2; CD45
3.  Glucocorticoid receptor binds half sites as a monomer and regulates specific target genes 
Genome Biology  2014;15(8):418.
Glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is a hormone-activated, DNA-binding transcriptional regulatory factor that controls inflammation, metabolism, stress responses, and other physiological processes. In vitro, GR binds as an inverted dimer to a motif consisting of two imperfectly palindromic 6 bp half sites separated by 3 bp spacers. In vivo, GR employs different patterns of functional surfaces of GR to regulate different target genes. The relationships between GR genomic binding and functional surface utilization have not been defined.
We find that A477T, a GR mutant that disrupts the dimerization interface, differs from wild-type GRα in binding and regulation of target genes. Genomic regions strongly occupied by A477T are enriched for a novel half site motif. In vitro, GRα binds half sites as a monomer. Through the overlap between GRα- and A477T-bound regions, we identify GRα-bound regions containing only half sites. We further identify GR target genes linked with half sites and not with the full motif.
Genomic regions bound by GR differ in underlying DNA sequence motifs and in the GR functional surfaces employed for regulation. Identification of GR binding regions that selectively utilize particular GR surfaces may discriminate sub-motifs, including the half site motif, that favor those surfaces. This approach may contribute to predictive models for GR activity and therapy.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0418-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4149261  PMID: 25085117
4.  An affective disorder in zebrafish with mutation of the glucocorticoid receptor 
Molecular psychiatry  2012;18(6):681-691.
Upon binding of cortisol, the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) regulates the transcription of specific target genes, including those that encode the stress hormones corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Dysregulation of the stress axis is a hallmark of major depression in human patients. However, it is still unclear how glucocorticoid signaling is linked to affective disorders. We identified an adult-viable zebrafish mutant in which the negative feedback on the stress response is disrupted, due to abolition of all transcriptional activity of GR. As a consequence, cortisol is elevated, but unable to signal through GR. When placed into an unfamiliar aquarium (‘novel tank’), mutant fish become immobile (‘freeze’), show reduced exploratory behavior and do not habituate to this stressor upon repeated exposure. Addition of the antidepressant fluoxetine to the holding water and social interactions restore normal behavior, followed by a delayed correction of cortisol levels. Fluoxetine does not affect overall transcription of CRH, the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), the serotonin transporter Serta or GR itself. Fluoxetine, however, suppresses the stress-induced upregulation of MR and Serta in both wildtype fish and mutants. Our studies show a conserved, protective function of glucocorticoid signaling in the regulation of emotional behavior and reveal novel molecular aspects of how chronic stress impacts vertebrate brain physiology and behavior. Importantly, the zebrafish model opens up the possibility of high-throughput drug screens in search of new classes of antidepressants.
PMCID: PMC4065652  PMID: 22641177
Stress; Depression; Anxiety; Glucocorticoid; Serotonin; Fish model
5.  SUMO as a nuclear hormone receptor effector 
Worm  2014;3:e29317.
Animal development is driven by robust, cell-specific gene expression programs. Understanding mechanistically how a single transcription factor (TF) can govern distinct programs with exquisite precision is a major challenge. We view TFs as signal integrators, taking information from co-regulator interactions, post-translational modifications, other transcription factors, chromatin state, DNA sequence and in some cases, specific noncovalent ligands, to determine the collection of genes regulated by a TF at any given time. Here, we describe a reductionist approach to combinatorial transcriptional regulation, focusing on a single C. elegans TF, the nuclear hormone receptor NHR-25, and a single post-translational modification, SUMO. We suggest that the ratio of sumoylated to unsumoylated NHR-25 could specify a switch-like cell-fate decision during vulval development. Direct examination of this “SUMO ratio” in vivo is challenging and we discuss possible solutions going forward. We also consider how sumoylation of multiple substrates might be coordinated during vulval development. Finally, we note that iteration of this approach could leverage our sumoylation findings to define the roles of other effectors of NHR-25 in the developing vulva and in other tissues.
PMCID: PMC4165532  PMID: 25254154
NHR-25; SMO-1; sumoylation; cell fate; vulva development; gene expression; nuclear hormone receptor; transcription; signaling; C. elegans
6.  Glucocorticoid Signaling Defines a Novel Commitment State during Adipogenesis In Vitro 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2008;19(10):4032-4041.
Differentiation of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes can be induced by a 2-d treatment with a factor “cocktail” (DIM) containing the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone (dex), insulin, the phosphodiesterase inhibitor methylisobutylxanthine (IBMX) and fetal bovine serum (FBS). We temporally uncoupled the activities of the four DIM components and found that treatment with dex for 48 h followed by IBMX treatment for 48 h was sufficient for adipogenesis, whereas treatment with IBMX followed by dex failed to induce significant differentiation. Similar results were obtained with C3H10T1/2 and primary mesenchymal stem cells. The 3T3-L1 adipocytes differentiated by sequential treatment with dex and IBMX displayed insulin sensitivity equivalent to DIM adipocytes, but had lower sensitivity to ISO-stimulated lipolysis and reduced triglyceride content. The nondifferentiating IBMX–then-dex treatment produced transient expression of adipogenic transcriptional regulatory factors C/EBPβ and C/EBPδ, and little induction of terminal differentiation factors C/EBPα and PPARγ. Moreover, the adipogenesis inhibitor preadipocyte factor-1 (Pref-1) was repressed by DIM or by dex-then-IBMX, but not by IBMX-then-dex treatment. We conclude that glucocorticoids drive preadipocytes to a novel intermediate cellular state, the dex-primed preadipocyte, during adipogenesis in cell culture, and that Pref-1 repression may be a cell fate determinant in preadipocytes.
PMCID: PMC2555927  PMID: 18653467
7.  New and improved proteomics technologies for understanding complex biological systems: Addressing a grand challenge in the life sciences 
Proteomics  2012;12(18):2773-2783.
This White Paper sets out a Life Sciences Grand Challenge for Proteomics Technologies to enhance our understanding of complex biological systems, link genomes with phenotypes, and bring broad benefits to the biosciences and the US economy. The paper is based on a workshop hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, MD, 14–15 February 2011, with participants from many federal R&D agencies and research communities, under the aegis of the US National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). Opportunities are identified for a coordinated R&D effort to achieve major technology-based goals and address societal challenges in health, agriculture, nutrition, energy, environment, national security, and economic development.
PMCID: PMC4005326  PMID: 22807061
Complex systems; Democratization of proteomics; Economic growth; Grand challenges; Integration; Systems biology
8.  Defects in the C. elegans acyl-CoA Synthase, acs-3, and Nuclear Hormone Receptor, nhr-25, Cause Sensitivity to Distinct, but Overlapping Stresses 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92552.
Metazoan transcription factors control distinct networks of genes in specific tissues, yet understanding how these networks are integrated into physiology, development, and homeostasis remains challenging. Inactivation of the nuclear hormone receptor nhr-25 ameliorates developmental and metabolic phenotypes associated with loss of function of an acyl-CoA synthetase gene, acs-3. ACS-3 activity prevents aberrantly high NHR-25 activity. Here, we investigated this relationship further by examining gene expression patterns following acs-3 and nhr-25 inactivation. Unexpectedly, we found that the acs-3 mutation or nhr-25 RNAi resulted in similar transcriptomes with enrichment in innate immunity and stress response gene expression. Mutants of either gene exhibited distinct sensitivities to pathogens and environmental stresses. Only nhr-25 was required for wild-type levels of resistance to the bacterial pathogen P. aeruginosa and only acs-3 was required for wild-type levels of resistance to osmotic stress and the oxidative stress generator, juglone. Inactivation of either acs-3 or nhr-25 compromised lifespan and resistance to the fungal pathogen D. coniospora. Double mutants exhibited more severe defects in the lifespan and P. aeruginosa assays, but were similar to the single mutants in other assays. Finally, acs-3 mutants displayed defects in their epidermal surface barrier, potentially accounting for the observed sensitivities. Together, these data indicate that inactivation of either acs-3 or nhr-25 causes stress sensitivity and increased expression of innate immunity/stress genes, most likely by different mechanisms. Elevated expression of these immune/stress genes appears to abrogate the transcriptional signatures relevant to metabolism and development.
PMCID: PMC3961378  PMID: 24651852
9.  Importin 7 and Importin α/Importin β Are Nuclear Import Receptors for the Glucocorticoid Receptor 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2004;15(5):2276-2286.
The vertebrate glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is cytoplasmic without hormone and localizes to the nucleus after hormone binding. GR has two nuclear localization signals (NLS): NL1 is similar in sequence to the SV40 NLS; NL2 is poorly defined, residing in the ligand-binding domain. We found that GR displayed similar hormone-regulated compartmentalization in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and required the Sxm1 nuclear import receptor for NL2-mediated import. Two metazoan homologues of Sxm1, importin 7 and importin 8, bound both NL1 and NL2, whereas importin α selectively bound NL1. In an in vitro nuclear import assay, both importin 7 and the importin α-importin β heterodimer could import a GR NL1 fragment. Under these conditions, full-length GR localized to nuclei in the presence but not absence of an unidentified component in cell extracts. Interestingly, importin 7, importin 8, and importin α bound GR even in the absence of hormone; thus, hormonal control of localization is exerted at a step downstream of import receptor binding.
PMCID: PMC404022  PMID: 15004228
10.  The glucocorticoid receptor dimer interface allosterically transmits sequence-specific DNA signals 
Glucocorticoid receptor binds to genomic response elements and regulates gene transcription with cell- and gene-specificity. Within a response element, the precise sequence to which the receptor binds has been implicated in directing its structure and activity. We use NMR chemical shift difference mapping to show that non-specific interactions with particular base positions within the binding sequence, such as those of the “spacer”, affect the conformation of distinct regions of the rat glucocorticoid receptor DNA binding domain. These regions include the DNA-binding surface, the “lever arm” and the dimerization interface, suggesting an allosteric pathway that signals between the DNA binding sequence and the associated dimer partner. Disrupting this path by mutating the dimer interface alters sequence-specific conformations, DNA-binding kinetics and transcriptional activity. Our study demonstrates that glucocorticoid receptor dimer partners collaborate to read DNA shape and to direct sequence specific gene activity.
PMCID: PMC3702670  PMID: 23728292
11.  Sumoylated NHR-25/NR5A Regulates Cell Fate during C. elegans Vulval Development 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003992.
Individual metazoan transcription factors (TFs) regulate distinct sets of genes depending on cell type and developmental or physiological context. The precise mechanisms by which regulatory information from ligands, genomic sequence elements, co-factors, and post-translational modifications are integrated by TFs remain challenging questions. Here, we examine how a single regulatory input, sumoylation, differentially modulates the activity of a conserved C. elegans nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-25, in different cell types. Through a combination of yeast two-hybrid analysis and in vitro biochemistry we identified the single C. elegans SUMO (SMO-1) as an NHR-25 interacting protein, and showed that NHR-25 is sumoylated on at least four lysines. Some of the sumoylation acceptor sites are in common with those of the NHR-25 mammalian orthologs SF-1 and LRH-1, demonstrating that sumoylation has been strongly conserved within the NR5A family. We showed that NHR-25 bound canonical SF-1 binding sequences to regulate transcription, and that NHR-25 activity was enhanced in vivo upon loss of sumoylation. Knockdown of smo-1 mimicked NHR-25 overexpression with respect to maintenance of the 3° cell fate in vulval precursor cells (VPCs) during development. Importantly, however, overexpression of unsumoylatable alleles of NHR-25 revealed that NHR-25 sumoylation is critical for maintaining 3° cell fate. Moreover, SUMO also conferred formation of a developmental time-dependent NHR-25 concentration gradient across the VPCs. That is, accumulation of GFP-tagged NHR-25 was uniform across VPCs at the beginning of development, but as cells began dividing, a smo-1-dependent NHR-25 gradient formed with highest levels in 1° fated VPCs, intermediate levels in 2° fated VPCs, and low levels in 3° fated VPCs. We conclude that sumoylation operates at multiple levels to affect NHR-25 activity in a highly coordinated spatial and temporal manner.
Author Summary
Animals precisely control when and where genes are expressed; failure to do so can cause severe developmental defects and pathology. Transcription factors must display extraordinary functional flexibility, controlling very different sets of genes in different cell and tissue types. To do so, they integrate information from signaling pathways, chromatin, and cofactors to ensure that the correct ensemble of genes is orchestrated in any given context. The number of regulatory inputs, and the complex physiology and large numbers of cell and tissue types in most experimentally tractable metazoans have rendered combinatorial regulation of transcription nearly impenetrable. We used the powerful genetics and simple biology of the model nematode, C. elegans, to examine how a single post-translational modification (sumoylation) affected the activity of a conserved TF (NHR-25) in different cell types during animal development. Our work suggests that sumoylation constrains NHR-25 activity in order to maintain proper cell fate during development of the reproductive organ.
PMCID: PMC3861103  PMID: 24348269
12.  Occupancy of chromatin organizers in the Epstein-Barr virus genome 
Virology  2011;415(1):10.1016/j.virol.2011.04.004.
The human CCCTC-binding factor, CTCF, regulates transcription of the double-stranded DNA genomes of herpesviruses. The architectural complex cohesin and RNA Polymerase II also contribute to this organization. We profiled the occupancy of CTCF, cohesin, and RNA Polymerase on the episomal genome of the Epstein-Barr virus in a cell culture model of latent infection. CTCF colocalizes with cohesin but not RNA Polymerase. CTCF and cohesin bind specific sequences throughout the genome that are found not just proximal to the regulatory elements of latent genes, but also near lytic genes. In addition to tracking with known transcripts, RNA Polymerase appears at two unannotated positions, one of which lies within the latent origin of replication. The widespread occupancy profile of each protein reveals binding near or at a myriad of regulatory elements and suggests context-dependent functions.
PMCID: PMC3808970  PMID: 21550623
CTCF; chromatin; transcription; Epstein-Barr virus; cohesin; RNA Polymerase II
13.  A coactivator role of CARM1 in the dysregulation of β-catenin activity in colorectal cancer cell growth and gene expression 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2011;9(5):660-670.
Aberrant activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling, resulting in the expression of Wnt regulated oncogenes, is recognized as a critical factor in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Occupancy of β-catenin at promoters of Wnt target genes drives transcription, but the mechanism of β-catenin action remains poorly understood. Here, we show that CARM1 (coactivator associated protein arginine methyltransferase 1) interacts with β-catenin and positively modulates β-catenin-mediated gene expression. In colorectal cancer cells with constitutively high Wnt/β-catenin activity, depletion of CARM1 inhibits expression of endogenous Wnt/β-catenin target genes and suppresses clonal survival and anchorage-independent growth. We also identified a colorectal cancer cell line (RKO) with a low basal level of β-catenin, which is dramatically elevated by treatment with Wnt3a. Wnt3a also increased expression of a subset of endogenous Wnt target genes, and CARM1 was required for the Wnt-induced expression of these target genes and the accompanying dimethylation of arginine 17 of histone H3. Depletion of β-catenin from RKO cells diminished the Wnt-induced occupancy of CARM1 on a Wnt target gene, indicating that CARM1 is recruited to Wnt target genes through its interaction with β-catenin and contributes to transcriptional activation by mediating events (including histone H3 methylation) which are downstream from the actions of β-catenin. Therefore, CARM1 is an important positive modulator of Wnt/β-catenin transcription and neoplastic transformation, and may thereby represent a novel target for therapeutic intervention in cancers involving aberrantly activated Wnt/β-catenin signaling.
PMCID: PMC3096696  PMID: 21478268
CARM1; Wnt/β-catenin; coactivators; transcriptional regulation; colorectal cancers
14.  Nuclear Hormone Receptors in Nematodes: Evolution and Function 
Nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs) are proteins that regulate gene expression in response to developmental, environmental, and nutritional signals. The activity of some NHRs is selectively and reversibly modulated by small molecular weight compounds. However, for others–termed “orphan” receptors–no such ligands have (yet) been identified, and at least some NHRs may lack natural ligands. NHRs exhibit a stereotyped architecture, with conserved N-terminal DNA-binding domains (DBDs) and more variable C-terminal ligand-binding domains (LBDs). NHRs control the transcription of remarkably diverse and specific gene networks, apparently by integrating multiple regulatory inputs that interact with distinct receptor surfaces; these inputs include small molecule ligands, transcriptional coregulators, and response elements, the genomic sites to which the receptors bind. NHRs comprise an ancient superfamily found in all metazoans, and recent findings have revealed NHR-like regulatory factors in fungi. Here, we consider NHR function and evolution in nematodes, roundworms that inhabit terrestrial, marine, and freshwater habitats; we focus in particular on the well-established experimental organism Caenorhabditis elegans. Interestingly, the C. elegans genome encodes a massively expanded NHR family; we speculate that some of the multiple physiological activities governed by individual mammalian NHRs may be distributed among multiple members of the C. elegans family, potentially focusing and simplifying functional analyses. Accordingly, investigations of relevant NHR cofactors, ligands, and response elements might also prove to be simpler; moreover, the abbreviated intergenic regions of the C. elegans genome will facilitate the assignment of response elements to target genes. Finally, the growing interest in medically relevant nematodes is providing novel insights into the function and evolution of NHRs.
PMCID: PMC3042524  PMID: 20438802
Nuclear Hormone Receptor (NHR); nematode; ligand; coregulator; evolution; C. elegans
15.  The Glucocorticoid Receptor and the Coregulator Brm Selectively Modulate Each Other's Occupancy and Activity in a Gene-Specific Manner▿# 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2011;31(16):3267-3276.
The diverse transcriptional patterns that distinguish metazoan cells are specified by multifactor regulatory complexes containing distinct combinations of factors that assemble at genomic response elements. To investigate combinatorial control, we examined a set of glucocorticoid receptor (GR)-regulated genes bearing nearby regulatory complexes that include both GR and the coregulator Brm, an ATPase subunit of the Swi/Snf chromatin remodeler. We analyzed how GR and Brm affect each other's occupancy and activity by utilizing glucocorticoid treatment and Brm knockdown to modulate GR-mediated transcriptional regulation and Brm-mediated chromatin remodeling, respectively. GR occupancy and activity were altered differentially by Brm knockdown at specific activated and repressed primary GR target genes. Brm knockdown decreased GR occupancy at activated Brm-dependent genes, whereas we identified two classes of repressed genes, at which Brm knockdown either increased or decreased GR occupancy. Glucocorticoid treatment increased both Brm occupancy and chromatin accessibility at Brm-dependent and Brm-independent GR-regulated genes. However, chromatin remodeling activity decreased after Brm knockdown only at genes with Brm-dependent transcription. Our study revealed multiple distinct patterns of GR and Brm interdependence. Thus, monitoring as few as two factors within regulatory complexes is sufficient to reveal functionally distinct assemblies, providing an analytical method for gaining insights into combinatorial regulation.
PMCID: PMC3147806  PMID: 21646426
16.  Functional modularity of nuclear hormone receptors in a Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic gene regulatory network 
We present the first gene regulatory network (GRN) that pertains to post-developmental gene expression. Specifically, we mapped a transcription regulatory network of Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic gene promoters using gene-centered yeast one-hybrid assays. We found that the metabolic GRN is enriched for nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs) compared with other gene-centered regulatory networks, and that these NHRs organize into functional network modules.The NHR family has greatly expanded in nematodes; C. elegans has 284 NHRs, whereas humans have only 48. We show that the NHRs in the metabolic GRN have metabolic phenotypes, suggesting that they do not simply function redundantly.The mediator subunit MDT-15 preferentially interacts with NHRs that occur in the metabolic GRN.We describe an NHR circuit that responds to nutrient availability and propose a model for the evolution and organization of NHRs in C. elegans metabolic regulatory networks.
Physical and/or regulatory interactions between transcription factors (TFs) and their target genes are essential to establish body plans of multicellular organisms during development, and these interactions have been studied extensively in the context of GRNs. The precise control of differential gene expression is also of critical importance to maintain physiological homeostasis, and many metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes coincide with substantial changes in gene expression. Much work has focused on the GRNs that control metazoan development; however, the design principles and organization of the GRNs that control systems physiology remain largely unexplored.
In this study, we present the first gene-centered GRN that includes ∼70 genes involved in C. elegans metabolism and physiology, 100 TFs and more than 500 protein–DNA interactions between them. The resulting metabolic GRN is enriched for NHRs, compared with other gene-centered regulatory networks. NHRs are well-known regulators of lipid meta-qj;bolism in mammals. The transcriptional activity of NHRs can be modified by diffusible ligands, which allows these TFs to function as molecular sensors and rapidly alter the expression of their target genes. Interestingly, NHRs comprise the largest family of TFs in nematodes; the C. elegans genome encodes 284 NHRs, most of which are uncharacterized. Furthermore, their organization in GRNs has not yet been investigated. In our study, we show that the C. elegans NHRs that we retrieved in the metabolic GRN organize into network modules, and that most of these NHRs function to maintain lipid homeostasis in the nematode. Interestingly, network modularity has been proposed to facilitate rapid and robust changes in gene expression. Our results suggest that the C. elegans metabolic GRN may have evolved by combining NHR family expansion with the specific modular wiring of NHRs to enable the rapid adaptation of the animal to different environmental cues.
NHRs can interact with transcriptional cofactors such as chromatin remodeling complexes and Mediator components. For instance, the C. elegans Mediator subunit, MDT-15, can interact with NHR-49 to regulate the expression of its target genes. To find all the TFs that MDT-15 can interact with, we performed systematic yeast two-hybrid assays with MDT-15 versus 755 full-length TFs. We found that MDT-15 preferentially associates with NHRs, and specifically with those NHRs that confer a metabolic phenotype and that occur in the metabolic GRN. This illustrates the central role of MDT-15 in the regulation of metabolic gene expression.
Using a variety of genetic and biochemical approaches, we characterized NHR-86 in more detail. NHR-86 participates in one of the two NHR modules, and has a high-flux capacity; that is it has both a high incoming and a high outgoing degree. We obtained an nhr-86 mutant and generated an NHR-86 antibody, and showed that NHR-86 functions as an auto-repressor in vivo and that nhr-86 mutant animals store abnormally high levels of body fat.
Finally, we discovered a novel NHR circuit that responds to nutrient availability. In this circuit NHR-45 regulates the activity of nhr-178 promoter in two distinct physiologically important tissues: the intestine and the hypodermis. Both of these NHRs are required to maintain lipid homeostasis in C. elegans. The expression of nhr-178 is responsive to the nutritional status of the animal, which switches between ON and OFF states in the hypodermis. We found that NHR-45 activity is necessary to control this switch in the hypodermis. Interestingly, NHR-45 has opposite effects on the activity of the nhr-178 promoter in these tissues: NHR-45 activates this promoter in the intestine, but represses it in the hypodermis.
Altogether our study leads to a model in which the expansion of the NHR family, TFs that have the capacity to act as fast molecular sensors, is combined with a modular network organization to enable rapid and robust responses to various environmental cues.
Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) provide insights into the mechanisms of differential gene expression at a systems level. GRNs that relate to metazoan development have been studied extensively. However, little is still known about the design principles, organization and functionality of GRNs that control physiological processes such as metabolism, homeostasis and responses to environmental cues. In this study, we report the first experimentally mapped metazoan GRN of Caenorhabditis elegans metabolic genes. This network is enriched for nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs). The NHR family has greatly expanded in nematodes: humans have 48 NHRs, but C. elegans has 284, most of which are uncharacterized. We find that the C. elegans metabolic GRN is highly modular and that two GRN modules predominantly consist of NHRs. Network modularity has been proposed to facilitate a rapid response to different cues. As NHRs are metabolic sensors that are poised to respond to ligands, this suggests that C. elegans GRNs evolved to enable rapid and adaptive responses to different cues by a concurrence of NHR family expansion and modular GRN wiring.
PMCID: PMC2890327  PMID: 20461074
C. elegans; gene regulatory network; metabolism; nuclear hormone receptor; transcription factor
18.  DNA Binding Site Sequence Directs Glucocorticoid Receptor Structure and Activity 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2009;324(5925):407-410.
Genes are not simply turned on or off, but instead their expression is fine-tuned to meet the needs of a cell. How genes are modulated so precisely is not well understood. The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) regulates target genes by associating with specific DNA binding sites, the sequences of which differ between genes. Traditionally, these binding sites have been viewed only as docking sites. Using structural, biochemical, and cell-based assays, we show that GR binding sequences, differing by as little as a single base pair, differentially affect GR conformation and regulatory activity. We therefore propose that DNA is a sequence-specific allosteric ligand of GR that tailors the activity of the receptor toward specific target genes.
PMCID: PMC2777810  PMID: 19372434
19.  The Mediator Subunit MDT-15 Confers Metabolic Adaptation to Ingested Material 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(2):e1000021.
In eukaryotes, RNA polymerase II (PolII) dependent gene expression requires accessory factors termed transcriptional coregulators. One coregulator that universally contributes to PolII-dependent transcription is the Mediator, a multisubunit complex that is targeted by many transcriptional regulatory factors. For example, the Caenorhabditis elegans Mediator subunit MDT-15 confers the regulatory actions of the sterol response element binding protein SBP-1 and the nuclear hormone receptor NHR-49 on fatty acid metabolism. Here, we demonstrate that MDT-15 displays a broader spectrum of activities, and that it integrates metabolic responses to materials ingested by C. elegans. Depletion of MDT-15 protein or mutation of the mdt-15 gene abrogated induction of specific detoxification genes in response to certain xenobiotics or heavy metals, rendering these animals hypersensitive to toxin exposure. Intriguingly, MDT-15 appeared to selectively affect stress responses related to ingestion, as MDT-15 functional defects did not abrogate other stress responses, e.g., thermotolerance. Together with our previous finding that MDT-15:NHR-49 regulatory complexes coordinate a sector of the fasting response, we propose a model whereby MDT-15 integrates several transcriptional regulatory pathways to monitor both the availability and quality of ingested materials, including nutrients and xenobiotic compounds.
Author Summary
All organisms adapt their physiology to external input, such as altered food availability or toxic challenges. Many of these responses are driven by changes in gene transcription. In general, sequence specific DNA-binding regulatory factors are considered the specificity determinants of the transcriptional output. Here, we show that, in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, one subunit of a >20 subunit, evolutionarily conserved, non-DNA binding co-factor termed Mediator, specifies a portion of the metabolic responses to a mixture of ingested material. This protein, MDT-15, is required for appropriate expression of genes that protect worms from the effects of toxic compounds and heavy metals. Our previous findings showed that the same protein also cooperates with other regulators to coordinate lipid metabolism. We suggest that MDT-15 may “route” transcriptional responses appropriate to the ingested material. This physiological scope appears broader and more sophisticated than that of any individual regulatory factor, thus coordinating systemic metabolic adaptation with ingestion. Given the evolutionary conservation of MDT-15 and the Mediator, a similar regulatory pathway may ensure health and longevity in mammals.
PMCID: PMC2265483  PMID: 18454197
20.  The Ligand Binding Domain Controls Glucocorticoid Receptor Dynamics Independent of Ligand Release▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(7):2442-2451.
Ligand binding to the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) results in receptor binding to glucocorticoid response elements (GREs) and the formation of transcriptional regulatory complexes. Equally important, these complexes are continuously disassembled, with active processes driving GR off GREs. We found that cochaperone p23-dependent disruption of GR-driven transcription depended on the ligand binding domain (LBD). Next, we examined the importance of the LBD and of ligand dissociation in GR-GRE dissociation in living cells. We showed in fluorescence recovery after photobleaching studies that dissociation of GR from GREs is faster in the absence of the LBD. Furthermore, GR interaction with a target promoter revealed ligand-specific exchange rates. However, using covalently binding ligands, we demonstrated that ligand dissociation is not required for receptor dissociation from GREs. Overall, these studies showed that activities impinging on the LBD regulate GR exchange with GREs but that the dissociation of GR from GREs is independent from ligand dissociation.
PMCID: PMC1899895  PMID: 17261597
21.  Determinants of Cell- and Gene-Specific Transcriptional Regulation by the Glucocorticoid Receptor 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(6):e94.
The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) associates with glucocorticoid response elements (GREs) and regulates selective gene transcription in a cell-specific manner. Native GREs are typically thought to be composite elements that recruit GR as well as other regulatory factors into functional complexes. We assessed whether GR occupancy is commonly a limiting determinant of GRE function as well as the extent to which core GR binding sequences and GRE architecture are conserved at functional loci. We surveyed 100-kb regions surrounding each of 548 known or potentially glucocorticoid-responsive genes in A549 human lung cells for GR-occupied GREs. We found that GR was bound in A549 cells predominately near genes responsive to glucocorticoids in those cells and not at genes regulated by GR in other cells. The GREs were positionally conserved at each responsive gene but across the set of responsive genes were distributed equally upstream and downstream of the transcription start sites, with 63% of them >10 kb from those sites. Strikingly, although the core GR binding sequences across the set of GREs varied extensively around a consensus, the precise sequence at an individual GRE was conserved across four mammalian species. Similarly, sequences flanking the core GR binding sites also varied among GREs but were conserved at individual GREs. We conclude that GR occupancy is a primary determinant of glucocorticoid responsiveness in A549 cells and that core GR binding sequences as well as GRE architecture likely harbor gene-specific regulatory information.
Author Summary
The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) regulates a myriad of physiological functions, such as cell differentiation and metabolism, achieved through modulating transcription in a cell- and gene-specific manner. However, the determinants that specify cell- and gene-specific GR transcriptional regulation are not well established. We describe three properties that contribute to this specificity: (1) GR occupancy at genomic glucocorticoid response elements (GREs) appears to be a primary determinant of glucocorticoid responsiveness; (2) the DNA sequences bound by GR vary widely around a consensus, but the precise sequences of individual GREs are highly conserved, suggesting a role for these sequences in gene-specific GR transcriptional regulation; and (3) native chromosomal GREs were generally found to be composite elements, comprised of multiple factor binding sites that were highly variable in composition, but as with the GR binding sequences, highly conserved at individual GREs. In addition, we discovered that most GREs were positioned far from their GR target genes and that they were equally distributed upstream and downstream of the target genes. These findings, which may be applicable to other regulatory factors, provide fundamental insights for understanding cell- and gene-specific transcriptional regulation.
PMCID: PMC1904358  PMID: 17559307
22.  Estradiol and Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators Differentially Regulate Target Genes with Estrogen Receptors α and βD⃞ 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2004;15(3):1262-1272.
Estrogens and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) interact with estrogen receptor (ER) α and β to activate or repress gene transcription. To understand how estrogens and SERMs exert tissue-specific effects, we performed microarray analysis to determine whether ERα or ERβ regulate different target genes in response to estrogens and SERMs. We prepared human U2OS osteosarcoma cells that are stably transfected with a tetracycline-inducible vector to express ERα or ERβ. Western blotting, immunohistochemistry, and immunoprecipitation studies confirmed that U2OS-ERα cells synthesized only ERα and that U2OS-ERβ cells expressed exclusively ERβ. U2OS-ERα and U2OS-ERβ cells were treated either with 17β-estradiol (E2), raloxifene, and tamoxifen for 18 h. Labeled cRNAs were hybridized with U95Av2 GeneChips (Affymetrix). A total of 228, 190, and 236 genes were significantly activated or repressed at least 1.74-fold in U2OS-ERα and U2OS-ERβ cells by E2, raloxifene, and tamoxifen, respectively. Most genes regulated in ERα cells in response to E2, raloxifene, and tamoxifen were distinct from those regulated in ERβ cells. Only 38 of the 228 (17%) genes were regulated by E2 in both U2OS-ERα and U2OS-ERβ cells. Raloxifene and tamoxifen regulated only 27% of the same genes in both the ERα and ERβ cells. A subset of genes involved in bone-related activities regulated by E2, raloxifene, and tamoxifen were also distinct. Our results demonstrate that most genes regulated by ERα are distinct from those regulated by ERβ in response to E2 and SERMs. These results indicate that estrogens and SERMs exert tissue-specific effects by regulating unique sets of targets genes through ERα and ERβ
PMCID: PMC363122  PMID: 14699072
23.  Nuclear Hormone Receptor NHR-49 Controls Fat Consumption and Fatty Acid Composition in C. elegans 
PLoS Biology  2005;3(2):e53.
Mammalian nuclear hormone receptors (NHRs), such as liver X receptor, farnesoid X receptor, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), precisely control energy metabolism. Consequently, these receptors are important targets for the treatment of metabolic diseases, including diabetes and obesity. A thorough understanding of NHR fat regulatory networks has been limited, however, by a lack of genetically tractable experimental systems. Here we show that deletion of the Caenorhabditis elegans NHR gene nhr-49 yielded worms with elevated fat content and shortened life span. Employing a quantitative RT-PCR screen, we found that nhr-49 influenced the expression of 13 genes involved in energy metabolism. Indeed, nhr-49 served as a key regulator of fat usage, modulating pathways that control the consumption of fat and maintain a normal balance of fatty acid saturation. We found that the two phenotypes of the nhr-49 knockout were linked to distinct pathways and were separable: The high-fat phenotype was due to reduced expression of enzymes in fatty acid β-oxidation, and the shortened adult life span resulted from impaired expression of a stearoyl-CoA desaturase. Despite its sequence relationship with the mammalian hepatocyte nuclear factor 4 receptor, the biological activities of nhr-49 were most similar to those of the mammalian PPARs, implying an evolutionarily conserved role for NHRs in modulating fat consumption and composition. Our findings in C. elegans provide novel insights into how NHR regulatory networks are coordinated to govern fat metabolism.
Deletion of the Caenorhabditis elegans gene nhr- 49 causes worms to accumulate fat and die younger; but these two phenotypes are a result of distinct and separable pathways
PMCID: PMC547972  PMID: 15719061

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