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1.  Locking the genome: nuclear organization and cell fate 
The differentiation of pluripotent or totipotent cells into various differentiated cell types is accompanied by a restriction of gene expression patterns, alteration in histone and DNA methylation, and changes in the gross nuclear organization of eu- and heterochromatic domains. Several recent studies have coupled genome-wide mapping of histone modifications with changes in gene expression. Other studies have examined changes in the subnuclear positioning of tissue-specific genes upon transcriptional induction or repression. Here we summarize intriguing correlations of the three phenomena, which suggest that in some cases causal relationships may exist.
doi:10.1016/j.gde.2011.01.023
PMCID: PMC4041333  PMID: 21345665
2.  Genetic Characterization of smg-8 Mutants Reveals No Role in C. elegans Nonsense Mediated Decay 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49490.
The nonsense mediated decay (NMD) pathway degrades mRNAs bearing premature translation termination codons. In mammals, SMG-8 has been implicated in the NMD pathway, in part by its association with SMG-1 kinase. Here we use four independent assays to show that C. elegans smg-8 is not required to degrade nonsense-containing mRNAs. We examine the genetic requirement for smg-8 to destabilize the endogenous, natural NMD targets produced by alternative splicing of rpl-7a and rpl-12. We test smg-8 for degradation of the endogenous, NMD target generated by unc-54(r293), which lacks a normal polyadenylation site. We probe the effect of smg-8 on the exogenous NMD target produced by myo-3::GFP, which carries a long 3′ untranslated region that destabilizes mRNAs. None of these known NMD targets is influenced by smg-8 mutations. In addition, smg-8 animals lack classical Smg mutant phenotypes such as a reduced brood size or abnormal vulva. We conclude that smg-8 is unlikely to encode a component critical for NMD.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049490
PMCID: PMC3500306  PMID: 23166684
3.  Dynamic Chromatin Organization during Foregut Development Mediated by the Organ Selector Gene PHA-4/FoxA 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(8):e1001060.
Central regulators of cell fate, or selector genes, establish the identity of cells by direct regulation of large cohorts of genes. In Caenorhabditis elegans, foregut (or pharynx) identity relies on the FoxA transcription factor PHA-4, which activates different sets of target genes at various times and in diverse cellular environments. An outstanding question is how PHA-4 distinguishes between target genes for appropriate transcriptional control. We have used the Nuclear Spot Assay and GFP reporters to examine PHA-4 interactions with target promoters in living embryos and with single cell resolution. While PHA-4 was found throughout the digestive tract, binding and activation of pharyngeally expressed promoters was restricted to a subset of pharyngeal cells and excluded from the intestine. An RNAi screen of candidate nuclear factors identified emerin (emr-1) as a negative regulator of PHA-4 binding within the pharynx, but emr-1 did not modulate PHA-4 binding in the intestine. Upon promoter association, PHA-4 induced large-scale chromatin de-compaction, which, we hypothesize, may facilitate promoter access and productive transcription. Our results reveal two tiers of PHA-4 regulation. PHA-4 binding is prohibited in intestinal cells, preventing target gene expression in that organ. PHA-4 binding within the pharynx is limited by the nuclear lamina component EMR-1/emerin. The data suggest that association of PHA-4 with its targets is a regulated step that contributes to promoter selectivity during organ formation. We speculate that global re-organization of chromatin architecture upon PHA-4 binding promotes competence of pharyngeal gene transcription and, by extension, foregut development.
Author Summary
Central regulators of cell fate establish the identity of cells by direct regulation of large cohorts of genes. In Caenorhabditis elegans, foregut (or pharynx) identity relies on the FoxA transcription factor PHA-4, which activates different target genes in different cellular environments. An outstanding question is how PHA-4 distinguishes between target genes for appropriate transcriptional control. Here we examine PHA-4 interactions with target promoters in living embryos and with single-cell resolution. While PHA-4 was found throughout the digestive tract, binding and activation of pharyngeally expressed promoters was restricted to a subset of pharyngeal cells and excluded from the intestine. An RNAi screen identified emerin (emr-1) as a negative regulator of PHA-4 binding within the pharynx. Upon promoter association, PHA-4 induced large-scale chromatin de-compaction, which, we hypothesize, facilitates promoter access. Our results reveal two tiers of PHA-4 regulation. PHA-4 binding is prohibited in intestinal cells and is limited in the pharynx by the nuclear lamina component EMR-1/emerin. The data suggest that association of PHA-4 with its targets is a regulated step that contributes to promoter selectivity during organ formation. We speculate that global re-organization of chromatin architecture upon PHA-4 binding promotes competence of pharyngeal gene transcription and, by extension, foregut development.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001060
PMCID: PMC2920861  PMID: 20714352
4.  Genome-Wide Identification of Binding Sites Defines Distinct Functions for Caenorhabditis elegans PHA-4/FOXA in Development and Environmental Response 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(2):e1000848.
Transcription factors are key components of regulatory networks that control development, as well as the response to environmental stimuli. We have established an experimental pipeline in Caenorhabditis elegans that permits global identification of the binding sites for transcription factors using chromatin immunoprecipitation and deep sequencing. We describe and validate this strategy, and apply it to the transcription factor PHA-4, which plays critical roles in organ development and other cellular processes. We identified thousands of binding sites for PHA-4 during formation of the embryonic pharynx, and also found a role for this factor during the starvation response. Many binding sites were found to shift dramatically between embryos and starved larvae, from developmentally regulated genes to genes involved in metabolism. These results indicate distinct roles for this regulator in two different biological processes and demonstrate the versatility of transcription factors in mediating diverse biological roles.
Author Summary
The C. elegans transcription factor PHA-4 is a member of the highly conserved FOXA family of transcription factors. These factors act as master regulators of organ development by controlling how genes are turned off and on as tissues are formed. Additionally they regulate genes in response to nutrient levels and control both longevity and survival of the organism. However, the extent to which these factors control similar or distinct gene targets for each of these functions is unknown. For this reason, we have used the technique of chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by deep sequencing (ChIP–Seq), to define the target binding sites of PHA-4 on a genome-wide scale, when it is either functioning as an organ identity regulator or in response to environmental stress. Our data clearly demonstrate distinct sets of biologically relevant target genes for the transcription factor PHA-4 under these two different conditions. Not only have we defined PHA-4 targets, but we established an experimental ChIP–Seq pipeline to facilitate the identification of binding sites for many transcription factors in the future.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000848
PMCID: PMC2824807  PMID: 20174564
5.  The Target of Rapamycin (TOR) pathway antagonizes pha-4/FoxA to control development and aging 
Current biology : CB  2008;18(18):1355-1364.
SUMMARY
BACKGROUND
FoxA factors are critical regulators of embryonic development and post-embryonic life, but little is know about the upstream pathways that modulate their activity [1]. C. elegans pha-4 encodes a FoxA transcription factor that is required to establish the foregut in embryos, and to control growth and longevity after birth [2–5]. We previously identified the AAA+ ATPase homologue ruvb-1 as a potent suppressor of pha-4 mutations [6].
RESULTS
Here we show that ruvb-1 is a component of the TOR pathway in C. elegans (CeTOR). Both ruvb-1 and let-363/TOR control nucleolar size and promote localization of box C/D snoRNPs to nucleoli, suggesting a role in rRNA maturation. Inactivation of let-363/TOR or ruvb-1 suppresses the lethality associated with reduced pha-4 activity. The CeTOR pathway controls protein homeostasis and also contributes to adult longevity [7, 8]. We find that pha-4 is required to extend adult lifespan in response to reduced CeTOR signaling. Mutations in the predicted CeTOR target rsks-1/S6 kinase or in ife-2/eIF4E also reduce protein biosynthesis and extend lifespan [9–11], but only rsks-1 mutations require pha-4 for adult longevity. In addition, rsks-1, but not ife-2, can suppress the larval lethality associated with pha-4 loss-of-function mutations.
CONCLUSION
The data suggest that pha-4 and the CeTOR pathway antagonize one another to regulate post-embryonic development and adult longevity. We suggest a model in which nutrients promote TOR and S6 kinase signaling, which represses pha-4/FoxA, leading to a shorter lifespan. A similar regulatory hierarchy may function in other animals to modulate metabolism, longevity or disease.
doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.097
PMCID: PMC2615410  PMID: 18804378
6.  The C. elegans Tousled-like Kinase Contributes to Chromosome Segregation as a Substrate and Regulator of the Aurora B Kinase 
Current biology : CB  2005;15(10):894-904.
Summary
Background
The Aurora kinases control multiple aspects of mitosis, among them centrosome maturation, spindle assembly, chromosome segregation, and cytokinesis. Aurora activity is regulated in part by a subset of Aurora substrates that, once phosphorylated, can enhance Aurora kinase activity. Aurora A substrate activators include TPX2 and Ajuba, whereas the only known Aurora B substrate activator is the chromosomal passenger INCENP.
Results
We report that the C. elegans Tousled kinase TLK-1 is a second substrate activator of the Aurora B kinase AIR-2. Tousled kinase (Tlk) expression and activity have been linked to ongoing DNA replication, and Tlk can phosphorylate the chromatin assembly factor Asf. Here, we show that TLK-1 is phosphorylated by AIR-2 during prophase/prometaphase and that phosphorylation increases TLK-1 kinase activity in vitro. Phosphorylated TLK-1 increases AIR-2 kinase activity in a manner that is independent of TLK-1 kinase activity but depends on the presence of ICP-1/INCENP. In vivo, TLK-1 and AIR-2 cooperate to ensure proper mitotic chromosome segregation.
Conclusions
The C. elegans Tousled kinase TLK-1 is a substrate and activator of the Aurora B kinase AIR-2. These results suggest that Tousled kinases have a previously unrecognized role in mitosis and that Aurora B associates with discrete regulatory complexes that may impart distinct substrate specificities and functions to the Aurora B kinase.
doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.04.019
PMCID: PMC2653428  PMID: 15916946
7.  Wormnet: a crystal ball for Caenorhabditis elegans 
Genome Biology  2008;9(6):226.
An integrated gene network for Caenorhabditis elegans encompasses most protein-coding genes.
An integrated gene network for Caenorhabditis elegans using data from multiple genome-wide screens encompasses most protein-coding genes and can accurately predict their phenotypes.
doi:10.1186/gb-2008-9-6-226
PMCID: PMC2481412  PMID: 18533047
8.  PHA-4/FoxA cooperates with TAM-1/TRIM to regulate cell fate restriction in the C. elegans foregut 
Developmental biology  2006;303(2):611-624.
A key question in development is how pluripotent progenitors are progressively restricted to acquire specific cell fates. Here we investigate how embryonic blastomeres in C. elegans develop into foregut (pharynx) cells in response to the selector gene PHA-4/FoxA. When pha-4 is removed from pharyngeal precursors, they exhibit two alternative responses. Before late-gastrulation (8E stage), these cells lose their pharyngeal identity and acquire an alternative fate such as ectoderm (Specification stage). After the Specification stage, mutant cells develop into aberrant pharyngeal cells (Morphogenesis/Differentiation stage). Two lines of evidence suggest that the Specification stage depends on transcriptional repression of ectodermal genes by pha-4. First, pha-4 exhibits strong synthetic phenotypes with the B class synMuv gene tam-1 (Tandam Array expression Modifier 1) and with a mediator of transcriptional repression, the NuRD complex (NUcleosome Remodeling and histone Deacetylase). Second, pha-4 associates with the promoter of the ectodermal regulator lin-26 and is required to repress lin-26 expression. We propose that restriction of early blastomeres to the pharyngeal fate depends on both repression of ectodermal genes and activation of pharyngeal genes by PHA-4.
doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.11.042
PMCID: PMC1855296  PMID: 17250823
embryogenesis; Mi-2; organogenesis; pharynx; synMuv; selector gene
9.  Role of T-box gene tbx-2 for anterior foregut muscle development in C. elegans 
Developmental biology  2006;302(1):25-39.
SUMMARY
During organogenesis, pluripotent precursor cells acquire a defined identity such as muscle or nerve. The transition from naïve precursor towards the differentiated state is characterized by sequential waves of gene expression that are determined by regulatory transcription factors. A key question is how transcriptional circuitry dictates the succession of events that accompanies developmental competence, cell fate specification and differentiation. To address this question, we have examined how anterior muscles are established within the C. elegans foregut (pharynx). We find that the T-box transcription factor tbx-2 is essential to form anterior pharyngeal muscles from the ABa blastomere. In the absence of tbx-2 function, ABa-derived cells initiate development normally: they receive glp-1/Notch signaling cues, activate the T-box gene TBX-38 and express the organ selector gene PHA-4/FoxA. However, these cells subsequently arrest development, extinguish PHA-4 and fail to activate PHA-4 target genes. tbx-2 mutant cells do not undergo apoptosis and there is no evidence for adoption of an alternative fate. TBX-2 is expressed in ABa descendants and depends on activation by pha-4 and repression by glp-1/Notch signaling. Our analysis suggests that a positive feedback loop between tbx-2 and pha-4 is required for ABa-derived precursors to commit to pharyngeal muscle fate.
doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.08.023
PMCID: PMC1852510  PMID: 17005176
Tbx2; Tbx3; Tbx4; Tbx5; omb; FoxA; pharynx; pha-4; Notch; glp-1; tbx-38
10.  A Map of the Interactome Network of the Metazoan C. elegans 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2004;303(5657):540-543.
To initiate studies on how protein-protein interaction (or “interactome”) networks relate to multicellular functions, we have mapped a large fraction of the Caenorhabditis elegans interactome network. Starting with a subset of metazoan-specific proteins, more than 4000 interactions were identified from high-throughput, yeast two-hybrid (HT=Y2H) screens. Independent coaffinity purification assays experimentally validated the overall quality of this Y2H data set. Together with already described Y2H interactions and interologs predicted in silico, the current version of the Worm Interactome (WI5) map contains ∼5500 interactions. Topological and biological features of this interactome network, as well as its integration with phenome and transcriptome data sets, lead to numerous biological hypotheses.
doi:10.1126/science.1091403
PMCID: PMC1698949  PMID: 14704431
11.  Temporal Regulation of Foregut Development by HTZ-1/H2A.Z and PHA-4/FoxA  
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(9):e161.
The histone variant H2A.Z is evolutionarily conserved and plays an essential role in mice, Drosophila, and Tetrahymena. The essential function of H2A.Z is unknown, with some studies suggesting a role in transcriptional repression and others in activation. Here we show that Caenorhabditis elegans HTZ-1/H2A.Z and the remodeling complex MYS-1/ESA1–SSL-1/SWR1 synergize with the FoxA transcription factor PHA-4 to coordinate temporal gene expression during foregut development. We observe dramatic genetic interactions between pha-4 and htz-1, mys-1, and ssl-1. A survey of transcription factors reveals that this interaction is specific, and thus pha-4 is acutely sensitive to reductions in these three proteins. Using a nuclear spot assay to visualize HTZ-1 in living embryos as organogenesis proceeds, we show that HTZ-1 is recruited to foregut promoters at the time of transcriptional onset, and this recruitment requires PHA-4. Loss of htz-1 by RNAi is lethal and leads to delayed expression of a subset of foregut genes. Thus, the effects of PHA-4 on temporal regulation can be explained in part by recruitment of HTZ-1 to target promoters. We suggest PHA-4 and HTZ-1 coordinate temporal gene expression by modulating the chromatin environment.
Synopsis
During development, a single fertilized egg gives rise to the different cell types within an embryo. These different cell types are characterized by the different genes that they express. A critical question in biology is how embryonic cells activate genes at the appropriate time and place to generate the different cell types. In this paper, the authors explore temporal regulation of gene expression during formation of an organ, namely the Caenorhabditis elegans foregut. They have discovered that foregut genes require a variant of the canonical H2A histone for the onset of transcription. This variant, called H2A.Z, or htz-1 in C. elegans, promotes transcription by modifying how DNA is packaged within cells. Their data suggest that a key regulator of foregut development, the transcription factor PHA-4, recruits HTZ-1 to pharyngeal promoters, and this association contributes to their timely activation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0020161
PMCID: PMC1584275  PMID: 17009877
12.  Whole-Genome Analysis of Temporal Gene Expression during Foregut Development 
PLoS Biology  2004;2(11):e352.
We have investigated the cis-regulatory network that mediates temporal gene expression during organogenesis. Previous studies demonstrated that the organ selector gene pha-4/FoxA is critical to establish the onset of transcription of Caenorhabditis elegans foregut (pharynx) genes. Here, we discover additional cis-regulatory elements that function in combination with PHA-4. We use a computational approach to identify candidate cis-regulatory sites for genes activated either early or late during pharyngeal development. Analysis of natural or synthetic promoters reveals that six of these sites function in vivo. The newly discovered temporal elements, together with predicted PHA-4 sites, account for the onset of expression of roughly half of the pharyngeal genes examined. Moreover, combinations of temporal elements and PHA-4 sites can be used in genome-wide searches to predict pharyngeal genes, with more than 85% accuracy for their onset of expression. These findings suggest a regulatory code for temporal gene expression during foregut development and provide a means to predict gene expression patterns based solely on genomic sequence.
Computational analysis combined with validation by reporter gene studies is uncovering the code for temporal gene regulation in the C. elegans foregut - a model for organogenesis
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020352
PMCID: PMC523228  PMID: 15492775

Results 1-12 (12)