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1.  Dnmt3a Is a Haploinsufficient Tumor Suppressor in CD8+ Peripheral T Cell Lymphoma 
PLoS Genetics  2016;12(9):e1006334.
DNA methyltransferase 3A (DNMT3A) is an enzyme involved in DNA methylation that is frequently mutated in human hematologic malignancies. We have previously shown that inactivation of Dnmt3a in hematopoietic cells results in chronic lymphocytic leukemia in mice. Here we show that 12% of Dnmt3a-deficient mice develop CD8+ mature peripheral T cell lymphomas (PTCL) and 29% of mice are affected by both diseases. 10% of Dnmt3a+/- mice develop lymphomas, suggesting that Dnmt3a is a haploinsufficient tumor suppressor in PTCL. DNA methylation was deregulated genome-wide with 10-fold more hypo- than hypermethylated promoters and enhancers, demonstrating that hypomethylation is a major event in the development of PTCL. Hypomethylated promoters were enriched for binding sites of transcription factors AML1, NF-κB and OCT1, implying the transcription factors potential involvement in Dnmt3a-associated methylation. Whereas 71 hypomethylated genes showed an increased expression in PTCL, only 3 hypermethylated genes were silenced, suggesting that cancer-specific hypomethylation has broader effects on the transcriptome of cancer cells than hypermethylation. Interestingly, transcriptomes of Dnmt3a+/- and Dnmt3aΔ/Δ lymphomas were largely conserved and significantly overlapped with those of human tumors. Importantly, we observed downregulation of tumor suppressor p53 in Dnmt3a+/- and Dnmt3aΔ/Δ lymphomas as well as in pre-tumor thymocytes from 9 months old but not 6 weeks old Dnmt3a+/- tumor-free mice, suggesting that p53 downregulation is chronologically an intermediate event in tumorigenesis. Decrease in p53 is likely an important event in tumorigenesis because its overexpression inhibited proliferation in mouse PTCL cell lines, suggesting that low levels of p53 are important for tumor maintenance. Altogether, our data link the haploinsufficient tumor suppressor function of Dnmt3a in the prevention of mouse mature CD8+ PTCL indirectly to a bona fide tumor suppressor of T cell malignancies p53.
Author Summary
Global deregulation of cytosine methylation is an epigenetic hallmark of hematologic malignancies that may promote tumorigenesis by silencing tumor suppressor genes, upregulating oncogenes, and inducing genomic instability. DNA methyltransferase 3a (DNMT3A) is one of the three catalytically active enzymes responsible for cytosine methylation and one of the most frequently mutated genes in myeloid and T cell malignancies. Its role in malignant hematopoiesis, however, remains poorly understood. Here we show that Dnmt3a is a haploinsufficient tumor suppressor in the prevention of peripheral T cell lymphomas in mice. Our molecular studies identified a large number of genes deregulated in the absence of Dnmt3a that may be putative drivers of oncogenesis. We also show that downregulation of the tumor suppressor p53 is an important event in the development of mouse T cell lymphomas. Thus, this study establishes a novel mouse model to elucidate how epigenetic deregulation of transcription contributes to the pathogenesis of T cell lymphomas.
PMCID: PMC5045215  PMID: 27690235
2.  Loss of Dnmt3a induces CLL and PTCL with distinct methylomes and transcriptomes in mice 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:34222.
Cytosine methylation of DNA is an epigenetic modification involved in the repression of genes that affect biological processes including hematopoiesis. It is catalyzed by DNA methyltransferases, one of which -DNMT3A- is frequently mutated in human hematologic malignancies. We have previously reported that Dnmt3a inactivation in hematopoietic stem cells results in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and CD8-positive peripheral T cell lymphomas (PTCL) in EμSRα-tTA;Teto-Cre;Dnmt3afl/fl; Rosa26LOXPEGFP/EGFP (Dnmt3aΔ/Δ) mice. The extent to which molecular changes overlap between these diseases is not clear. Using high resolution global methylation and expression analysis we show that whereas patterns of methylation and transcription in normal B-1a cells and CD8-positive T cells are similar, methylomes and transcriptomes in malignant B-1a and CD8+ T cells are remarkably distinct, suggesting a cell-type specific function for Dnmt3a in cellular transformation. Promoter hypomethylation in tumors was 10 times more frequent than hypermethylation, three times more frequent in CLL than PTCL and correlated better with gene expression than hypermethylation. Cross-species molecular comparison of mouse and human CLL and PTCL reveals significant overlaps and identifies putative oncogenic drivers of disease. Thus, Dnmt3aΔ/Δ mice can serve as a new mouse model to study CLL and PTCL in relevant physiological settings.
PMCID: PMC5039761  PMID: 27677595
3.  Promoter hypomethylation and expression is conserved in mouse chronic lymphocytic leukemia induced by decreased or inactivated Dnmt3a 
Cell reports  2016;15(6):1190-1201.
DNA methyltransferase 3a (DNMT3A) catalyzes the formation of 5-methyl-cytosine in mammalian genomic DNA and it is frequently mutated in human hematologic malignancies. Bi-allelic loss of Dnmt3a in mice results in leukemia and lymphoma, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Here we investigate whether mono-allelic loss of Dnmt3a is sufficient to induce disease. We show that by 16 months of age, 65% of Dnmt3a+/− mice develop a CLL-like disease and 15% of mice develop non-malignant myeloproliferation. Genome-wide methylation analysis reveals that reduced Dnmt3a levels induce promoter hypomethylation at similar loci in Dnmt3a+/− and Dnmt3aΔ/Δ CLL, suggesting that promoters are particularly sensitive to Dnmt3a levels. Gene-expression analysis identified 26 hypomethylated and over-expressed genes common to both Dnmt3a+/− and Dnmt3aΔ/Δ CLL as putative oncogenic drivers. Our data provide evidence that Dnmt3a is a haplo-insufficient tumor suppressor in CLL and highlights the importance of deregulated molecular events in disease pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4864108  PMID: 27134162
4.  Methylation-independent repression of Dnmt3b contributes to oncogenic activity of Dnmt3a in mouse MYC-induced T-cell lymphomagenesis 
Oncogene  2015;34(43):5436-5446.
DNA methyltransferase 3A (DNMT3A) catalyzes cytosine methylation of mammalian genomic DNA. In addition to myeloid malignancies, mutations in DNMT3A have been recently reported in T-cell lymphoma and leukemia, implying a possible involvement in the pathogenesis of human diseases. However, the role of Dnmt3a in T-cell transformation in vivo is poorly understood. Here we analyzed the functional consequences of Dnmt3a inactivation in a mouse model of MYC-induced T-cell lymphomagenesis (MTCL). Loss of Dnmt3a delayed tumorigenesis by suppressing cellular proliferation during disease progression. Gene expression profiling and pathway analysis identified up-regulation of 17 putative tumor suppressor genes, including DNA methyltransferase Dnmt3b, in Dnmt3a-deficient lymphomas as molecular events potentially responsible for the delayed lymphomagenesis in Dnmt3aΔ/Δ mice. Interestingly, promoter and gene body methylation of these genes was not substantially changed between control and Dnmt3a-deficient lymphomas, suggesting that Dnmt3a may inhibit their expression in a methylation-independent manner. Re-expression of both wild-type and catalytically inactive Dnmt3a in Dnmt3aΔ/Δ lymphoma cells in vitro inhibited Dnmt3b expression, indicating that Dnmt3b up-regulation may be directly repressed by Dnmt3a. Importantly, genetic inactivation of Dnmt3b accelerated lymphomagenesis in Dnmt3aΔ/Δ mice, demonstrating that up-regulation of Dnmt3b is a relevant molecular change in Dnmt3a-deficient lymphomas that inhibits disease progression. Collectively, our data demonstrate an unexpected oncogenic role for Dnmt3a in MTCL through methylation-independent repression of Dnmt3b and possibly other tumor suppressor genes.
PMCID: PMC4533871  PMID: 25639876
Mouse models; T-cell lymphoma; DNA methylation; Epigenetics
5.  Aberrant Promoter Hypomethylation in CLL: Does It Matter for Disease Development? 
Frontiers in Oncology  2016;6:182.
Over the last 30 years, studies of aberrant DNA methylation in hematologic malignancies have been dominated by the primary focus of understanding promoter hypermethylation. These efforts not only resulted in a better understanding of the basis of epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes but also resulted in approval of hypomethylating agents for the treatment of several malignancies, such as myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia. Recent advances in global methylation profiling coupled with the use of mouse models suggest that aberrant promoter hypomethylation is also a frequent event in hematologic malignancies, particularly in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Promoter hypomethylation affects gene expression and, therefore, may play an important role in disease pathogenesis. Here, we review recent findings and discuss the potential involvement of aberrant promoter hypomethylation in CLL.
PMCID: PMC4980682  PMID: 27563627
mouse models of cancer; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; DNA methyltransferases; hypomethylation; hematologic neoplasms; DNA methylation; leukemia; promoter methylation
6.  Inactivation of Rb and E2f8 Synergizes To Trigger Stressed DNA Replication during Erythroid Terminal Differentiation 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2014;34(15):2833-2847.
Rb is critical for promoting cell cycle exit in cells undergoing terminal differentiation. Here we show that during erythroid terminal differentiation, Rb plays a previously unappreciated and unorthodox role in promoting DNA replication and cell cycle progression. Specifically, inactivation of Rb in erythroid cells led to stressed DNA replication, increased DNA damage, and impaired cell cycle progression, culminating in defective terminal differentiation and anemia. Importantly, all of these defects associated with Rb loss were exacerbated by the concomitant inactivation of E2f8. Gene expression profiling and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) revealed that Rb and E2F8 cosuppressed a large array of E2F target genes that are critical for DNA replication and cell cycle progression. Remarkably, inactivation of E2f2 rescued the erythropoietic defects resulting from Rb and E2f8 deficiencies. Interestingly, real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) on E2F2 ChIPs indicated that inactivation of Rb and E2f8 synergizes to increase E2F2 binding to its target gene promoters. Taken together, we propose that Rb and E2F8 collaborate to promote DNA replication and erythroid terminal differentiation by preventing E2F2-mediated aberrant transcriptional activation through the ability of Rb to bind and sequester E2F2 and the ability of E2F8 to compete with E2F2 for E2f-binding sites on target gene promoters.
PMCID: PMC4135565  PMID: 24865965
7.  Mouse Development with a Single E2F Activator 
Nature  2008;454(7208):1137-1141.
The E2F family is conserved from C. elegans to mammals with some family members having transcription activation functions and others having repressor functions1, 2. Whereas C. elegans3 and Drosophila melanogaster4, 5 have a single E2F activator and repressor proteins, mammals evolved to have at least three activator and five repressor proteins1, 2, 6. Why such genetic complexity evolved in mammals is not known. To begin to evaluate this genetic complexity, we targeted the inactivation of the entire subset of activators, E2f1, E2f2, E2f3a and E2f3b, singly or in combination in mice. We demonstrate that E2f3a is sufficient to support mouse embryonic and postnatal development. Remarkably, expression of E2f3b or E2f1 from the E2f3a locus (E2f3a3bki; E2f3a1ki) suppressed all the postnatal phenotypes associated with the inactivation of E2f3a. We conclude that there is significant functional redundancy among activators and that the specific requirement for E2f3a during postnatal development is dictated by regulatory sequences governing its selective spatiotemporal expression and not by its intrinsic protein functions. These findings provide a molecular basis for the observed specificity among E2F activators during development.
PMCID: PMC4288824  PMID: 18594513
E2F3a; E2F3b; Rb; development; proliferation; transcription and apoptosis
8.  Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Cells in a Lymph Node Microenvironment Depict Molecular Signature Associated with an Aggressive Disease 
Molecular Medicine  2014;20(1):290-301.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells survive longer in vivo than in vitro, suggesting that the tissue microenvironment provides prosurvival signals to tumor cells. Primary and secondary lymphoid tissues are involved in the pathogenesis of CLL, and the role of these tissue microenvironments has not been explored completely. To elucidate host–tumor interactions, we performed gene expression profiling (GEP) of purified CLL cells from peripheral blood (PB; n = 20), bone marrow (BM; n = 18), and lymph node (LN; n = 15) and validated key pathway genes by real-time polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry and/or TCL1 trans-genic mice. Gene signatures representing several pathways critical for survival and activation of B cells were altered in CLL cells from different tissue compartments. Molecules associated with the B-cell receptor (BCR), B cell–activating factor/a proliferation-inducing ligand (BAFF/APRIL), nuclear factor (NF)-κB pathway and immune suppression signature were enriched in LN-CLL, suggesting LNs as the primary site for tumor growth. Immune suppression genes may help LN-CLL cells to modulate antigen-presenting and T-cell behavior to suppress antitumor activity. PB CLL cells overexpressed chemokine receptors, and their cognate ligands were enriched in LN and BM, suggesting that a chemokine gradient instructs B cells to migrate toward LN or BM. Of several chemokine ligands, the expression of CCL3 was associated with poor prognostic factors. The BM gene signature was enriched with antiapoptotic, cytoskeleton and adhesion molecules. Interestingly, PB cells from lymphadenopathy patients shared GEP with LN cells. In Eμ-TCL1 transgenic mice (the mouse model of the disease), a high percentage of leukemic cells from the lymphoid compartment express key BCR and NF-κB molecules. Together, our findings demonstrate that the lymphoid microenvironment promotes survival, proliferation and progression of CLL cells via chronic activation of BCR, BAFF/APRIL and NF-κB activation while suppressing the immune response.
PMCID: PMC4107103  PMID: 24800836
9.  Essential Role for Dnmt1 in the Prevention and Maintenance of MYC-Induced T-Cell Lymphomas 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2013;33(21):4321-4333.
DNA cytosine methylation is an epigenetic modification involved in the transcriptional repression of genes controlling a variety of physiological processes, including hematopoiesis. DNA methyltransferase 1 (Dnmt1) is a key enzyme involved in the somatic inheritance of DNA methylation and thus plays a critical role in epigenomic stability. Aberrant methylation contributes to the pathogenesis of human cancer and of hematologic malignancies in particular. To gain deeper insight into the function of Dnmt1 in lymphoid malignancies, we genetically inactivated Dnmt1 in a mouse model of MYC-induced T-cell lymphomagenesis. We show that loss of Dnmt1 delays lymphomagenesis by suppressing normal hematopoiesis and impairing tumor cell proliferation. Acute inactivation of Dnmt1 in primary lymphoma cells rapidly induced apoptosis, indicating that Dnmt1 is required to sustain T-cell lymphomas. Using high-resolution genome-wide profiling, we identified differentially methylated regions between control and Dnmt1-deficient lymphomas, demonstrating a locus-specific function for Dnmt1 in both maintenance and de novo promoter methylation. Dnmt1 activity is independent of the presence of Dnmt3a or Dnmt3b in de novo promoter methylation of the H2-Ab1 gene. Collectively, these data show for the first time that Dnmt1 is critical for the prevention and maintenance of T-cell lymphomas and contributes to aberrant methylation by both de novo and maintenance methylation.
PMCID: PMC3811897  PMID: 24001767
10.  Dormant cancer cells contribute to residual disease in a model of reversible pancreatic cancer 
Cancer research  2013;73(6):1821-1830.
The initiation and progression of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is governed by a series of genetic and epigenetic changes, but it is still unknown whether these alterations are required for the maintenance of primary and metastatic PDAC. We show here that the c-Myc oncogene is upregulated throughout the entire process of neoplastic progression in human PDAC and in genetically engineered mice that express mutant Kras. To experimentally address whether c-Myc is essential for the growth and survival of cancer cells, we developed a novel mouse model that allows a temporally and spatially controlled expression of this oncogene in pancreatic progenitors and derived lineages of the exocrine pancreas. Unlike previous reports, upregulation of c-Myc was sufficient to induce the formation of adenocarcinomas after a short latency without additional genetic manipulation of cell survival pathways. Deficiency in Cdkn2a increased the rate of metastasis but had no effect on tumor latency or c-Myc-mediated cancer maintenance. Despite a macroscopically complete regression of primary, metastatic, and transplantable tumors following the ablation of c-Myc, some cancer cells remained dormant. A significant number of these residual neoplastic cells expressed cancer stem cell markers, and re-expression of exogenous c-Myc in these cells led to rapid cancer recurrence. Collectively, the results of this study suggest that c-Myc plays a significant role in the progression and maintenance of PDAC, but besides targeting this oncogene or its downstream effectors, additional therapeutic strategies are necessary to eradicate residual cancer cells to prevent disease recurrence.
PMCID: PMC3602120  PMID: 23467612
Pancreatic Cancer; Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma; Oncogenes; c-Myc; Disease Progression; Metastasis; Cancer Cell Dormancy; Cancer-initiating Cells; Genetically-engineered Mice; Cre recombinase; Tetracycline-controlled transactivation
12.  Loss of Dnmt3b function upregulates the tumor modifier Ment and accelerates mouse lymphomagenesis 
DNA methyltransferase 3B (Dnmt3b) belongs to a family of enzymes responsible for methylation of cytosine residues in mammals. DNA methylation contributes to the epigenetic control of gene transcription and is deregulated in virtually all human tumors. To better understand the generation of cancer-specific methylation patterns, we genetically inactivated Dnmt3b in a mouse model of MYC-induced lymphomagenesis. Ablation of Dnmt3b function using a conditional knockout in T cells accelerated lymphomagenesis by increasing cellular proliferation, which suggests that Dnmt3b functions as a tumor suppressor. Global methylation profiling revealed numerous gene promoters as potential targets of Dnmt3b activity, the majority of which were demethylated in Dnmt3b–/– lymphomas, but not in Dnmt3b–/– pretumor thymocytes, implicating Dnmt3b in maintenance of cytosine methylation in cancer. Functional analysis identified the gene Gm128 (which we termed herein methylated in normal thymocytes [Ment]) as a target of Dnmt3b activity. We found that Ment was gradually demethylated and overexpressed during tumor progression in Dnmt3b–/– lymphomas. Similarly, MENT was overexpressed in 67% of human lymphomas, and its transcription inversely correlated with methylation and levels of DNMT3B. Importantly, knockdown of Ment inhibited growth of mouse and human cells, whereas overexpression of Ment provided Dnmt3b+/+ cells with a proliferative advantage. Our findings identify Ment as an enhancer of lymphomagenesis that contributes to the tumor suppressor function of Dnmt3b and suggest it could be a potential target for anticancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3248285  PMID: 22133874
13.  E2f3a and E2f3b Contribute to the Control of Cell Proliferation and Mouse Development▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2008;29(2):414-424.
The E2f3 locus encodes two Rb-binding gene products, E2F3a and E2F3b, which are differentially regulated during the cell cycle and are thought to be critical for cell cycle progression. We targeted the individual inactivation of E2f3a or E2f3b in mice and examined their contributions to cell proliferation and development. Chromatin immunoprecipitation and gene expression experiments using mouse embryo fibroblasts deficient in each isoform showed that E2F3a and E2F3b contribute to G1/S-specific gene expression and cell proliferation. Expression of E2f3a or E2f3b was sufficient to support E2F target gene expression and cell proliferation in the absence of other E2F activators, E2f1 and E2f2, suggesting that these isoforms have redundant functions. Consistent with this notion, E2f3a−/− and E2f3b−/− embryos developed normally, whereas embryos lacking both isoforms (E2f3−/−) died in utero. We also find that E2f3a and E2f3b have redundant and nonredundant roles in the context of Rb mutation. Analysis of double-knockout embryos suggests that the ectopic proliferation and apoptosis in Rb−/− embryos is mainly mediated by E2f3a in the placenta and nervous system and by both E2f3a and E2f3b in lens fiber cells. Together, we conclude that the contributions of E2F3a and E2F3b in cell proliferation and development are context dependent.
PMCID: PMC2612501  PMID: 19015245
14.  Intestinal Hyperplasia Induced by Simian Virus 40 Large Tumor Antigen Requires E2F2▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(23):13191-13199.
The simian virus 40 large T antigen contributes to neoplastic transformation, in part, by targeting the Rb family of tumor suppressors. There are three known Rb proteins, pRb, p130, and p107, all of which block the cell cycle by preventing the transcription of genes regulated by the E2F family of transcription factors. T antigen interacts directly with Rb proteins and disrupts Rb-E2F complexes both in vitro and in cultured cells. Consequently, T antigen is thought to inhibit transcriptional repression by the Rb family proteins by disrupting their interaction with E2F proteins, thus allowing E2F-dependent transcription and the expression of cellular genes needed for entry into S phase. This model predicts that active E2F-dependent transcription is required for T-antigen-induced transformation. To test this hypothesis, we have examined the status of Rb-E2F complexes in murine enterocytes. Previous studies have shown that T antigen drives enterocytes into S phase, resulting in intestinal hyperplasia, and that the induction of enterocyte proliferation requires T-antigen binding to Rb proteins. In this paper, we show that normal growth-arrested enterocytes contain p130-E2F4 complexes and that T-antigen expression destroys these complexes, most likely by stimulating p130 degradation. Furthermore, unlike their normal counterparts, enterocytes expressing T antigen contain abundant levels of E2F2 and E2F3a. Concomitantly, T-antigen-induced intestinal proliferation is reduced in mice lacking either E2F2 alone or both E2F2 and E2F3a, but not in mice lacking E2F1. These studies support a model in which T antigen eliminates Rb-E2F repressive complexes so that specific activator E2Fs can drive S-phase entry.
PMCID: PMC2169091  PMID: 17855529
15.  CpG Island Methylation in a Mouse Model of Lymphoma Is Driven by the Genetic Configuration of Tumor Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(9):e167.
Hypermethylation of CpG islands is a common epigenetic alteration associated with cancer. Global patterns of hypermethylation are tumor-type specific and nonrandom. The biological significance and the underlying mechanisms of tumor-specific aberrant promoter methylation remain unclear, but some evidence suggests that this specificity involves differential sequence susceptibilities, the targeting of DNA methylation activity to specific promoter sequences, or the selection of rare DNA methylation events during disease progression. Using restriction landmark genomic scanning on samples derived from tissue culture and in vivo models of T cell lymphomas, we found that MYC overexpression gave rise to a specific signature of CpG island hypermethylation. This signature reflected gene transcription profiles and was detected only in advanced stages of disease. The further inactivation of the Pten, p53, and E2f2 tumor suppressors in MYC-induced lymphomas resulted in distinct and diagnostic CpG island methylation signatures. Our data suggest that tumor-specific DNA methylation in lymphomas arises as a result of the selection of rare DNA methylation events during the course of tumor development. This selection appears to be driven by the genetic configuration of tumor cells, providing experimental evidence for a causal role of DNA hypermethylation in tumor progression and an explanation for the tremendous epigenetic heterogeneity observed in the evolution of human cancers. The ability to predict genome-wide epigenetic silencing based on relatively few genetic alterations will allow for a more complete classification of tumors and understanding of tumor cell biology.
Author Summary
Genetic and epigenetic alterations of the genome are common features of cancers. The relationship between these two types of alterations, however, remains unclear. One type of epigenetic modification—DNA methylation in promoter sequences of genes—is of particular interest, since tumor cells have different patterns of promoter methylation than normal cells. Previous studies on human tumor samples have suggested a link between genetic alterations and the induction of aberrant DNA methylation; however, this link has been difficult to rigorously assess because of the incredible genetic heterogeneity found in human cancer. In this study, a mouse model of T cell lymphoma was used to explore the relationship between genetic and epigenetic modifications experienced by tumor cells. By introducing defined genetic changes into preneoplastic T cells of mice, such as the overexpression of the MYC oncogene and the ablation of tumor suppressor genes, we could carefully evaluate how these genetic changes impacted promoter methylation profiles during development of lymphomas in vivo. We found that the introduction of different genetic insults resulted in unique and diagnostic profiles of promoter methylation. Understanding how these methylation signatures contribute to tumor progression could eventually have diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic value for human cancers.
PMCID: PMC1994712  PMID: 17907813
16.  Rb-Mediated Neuronal Differentiation through Cell-Cycle–Independent Regulation of E2f3a 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(7):e179.
It has long been known that loss of the retinoblastoma protein (Rb) perturbs neural differentiation, but the underlying mechanism has never been solved. Rb absence impairs cell cycle exit and triggers death of some neurons, so differentiation defects may well be indirect. Indeed, we show that abnormalities in both differentiation and light-evoked electrophysiological responses in Rb-deficient retinal cells are rescued when ectopic division and apoptosis are blocked specifically by deleting E2f transcription factor (E2f) 1. However, comprehensive cell-type analysis of the rescued double-null retina exposed cell-cycle–independent differentiation defects specifically in starburst amacrine cells (SACs), cholinergic interneurons critical in direction selectivity and developmentally important rhythmic bursts. Typically, Rb is thought to block division by repressing E2fs, but to promote differentiation by potentiating tissue-specific factors. Remarkably, however, Rb promotes SAC differentiation by inhibiting E2f3 activity. Two E2f3 isoforms exist, and we find both in the developing retina, although intriguingly they show distinct subcellular distribution. E2f3b is thought to mediate Rb function in quiescent cells. However, in what is to our knowledge the first work to dissect E2f isoform function in vivo we show that Rb promotes SAC differentiation through E2f3a. These data reveal a mechanism through which Rb regulates neural differentiation directly, and, unexpectedly, it involves inhibition of E2f3a, not potentiation of tissue-specific factors.
Author Summary
The retinoblastoma protein (Rb), an important tumor suppressor, blocks division and death by inhibiting the E2f transcription factor family. In contrast, Rb is thought to promote differentiation by potentiating tissue-specific transcription factors, although differentiation defects in Rb null cells could be an indirect consequence of E2f-driven division and death. Here, we resolve different mechanisms by which Rb controls division, death, and differentiation in the retina. Removing E2f1 rescues aberrant division of differentiating Rb-deficient retinal neurons, as well as death in cells prone to apoptosis, and restores both normal differentiation and function of major cell types, such as photoreceptors. However, Rb-deficient starburst amacrine neurons differentiate abnormally even when E2f1 is removed, providing an unequivocal example of a direct role for Rb in neuronal differentiation. Rather than potentiating a cell-specific factor, Rb promotes starburst cell differentiation by inhibiting another E2f, E2f3a. This cell-cycle–independent activity broadens the importance of the Rb–E2f pathway, and suggests we should reassess its role in the differentiation of other cell types.
The retinoblastoma protein (Rb), a tumor suppressor, promotes the differentiation of starburst amacrine cells in the retina by inhibiting the transcription factor E2f3a, whereas it suppresses retinal cell division and death by inhibiting E2f1.
PMCID: PMC1914394  PMID: 17608565
17.  E2f1, E2f2, and E2f3 Control E2F Target Expression and Cellular Proliferation via a p53-Dependent Negative Feedback Loop▿ 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(1):65-78.
E2F-mediated control of gene expression is believed to have an essential role in the control of cellular proliferation. Using a conditional gene-targeting approach, we show that the targeted disruption of the entire E2F activator subclass composed of E2f1, E2f2, and E2f3 in mouse embryonic fibroblasts leads to the activation of p53 and the induction of p53 target genes, including p21CIP1. Consequently, cyclin-dependent kinase activity and retinoblastoma (Rb) phosphorylation are dramatically inhibited, leading to Rb/E2F-mediated repression of E2F target gene expression and a severe block in cellular proliferation. Inactivation of p53 in E2f1-, E2f2-, and E2f3-deficient cells, either by spontaneous mutation or by conditional gene ablation, prevented the induction of p21CIP1 and many other p53 target genes. As a result, cyclin-dependent kinase activity, Rb phosphorylation, and E2F target gene expression were restored to nearly normal levels, rendering cells responsive to normal growth signals. These findings suggest that a critical function of the E2F1, E2F2, and E2F3 activators is in the control of a p53-dependent axis that indirectly regulates E2F-mediated transcriptional repression and cellular proliferation.
PMCID: PMC1800646  PMID: 17167174

Results 1-17 (17)