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1.  Overlapping cell population expression profiling and regulatory inference in C. elegans 
BMC Genomics  2016;17:159.
Understanding gene expression across the diverse metazoan cell types during development is critical to understanding their function and regulation. However, most cell types have not been assayed for expression genome-wide.
We applied a novel approach we term “Profiling of Overlapping Populations of cells (POP-Seq)” to assay differential expression across all embryonic cells in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. In this approach, we use RNA-seq to define the transcriptome of diverse partially overlapping FACS-sorted cell populations. This identified thousands of transcripts differentially expressed across embryonic cells. Hierarchical clustering analysis identified over 100 sets of coexpressed genes corresponding to distinct patterns of cell type specific expression. We identified thousands of candidate regulators of these clusters based on enrichment of transcription factor motifs and experimentally determined binding sites.
Our analysis provides new insight into embryonic gene regulation, and provides a resource for improving our knowledge of tissue-specific expression and its regulation throughout C. elegans development.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12864-016-2482-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4772325  PMID: 26926147
C. elegans; Embryonic development; Tissue-specific expression
2.  Analysis of cell fate from single-cell gene expression profiles in C. elegans 
Cell  2009;139(3):623-633.
The C. elegans cell lineage provides a unique opportunity to look at how cell lineage affects patterns of gene expression. We developed an automatic cell lineage analyzer that converts high-resolution images of worms into a data table showing fluorescence expression with single cell resolution. We generated expression profiles of 93 genes in 363 specific cells from L1 stage larvae and found that cells with identical fates can be formed by different gene regulatory pathways. We used molecular signatures to find repeating cell fate modules within the cell lineage and to create a molecular differentiation map, which shows points in the cell lineage when developmental fates of daughter cells begin to diverge. These results demonstrate insights that become possible using computational approaches to analyze quantitative expression from many genes in parallel using a digital gene expression atlas.
PMCID: PMC4709123  PMID: 19879847
3.  Quantitative Differences in Nuclear β-catenin and TCF Pattern Embryonic Cells in C. elegans  
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(10):e1005585.
The Wnt signaling pathway plays a conserved role during animal development in transcriptional regulation of distinct targets in different developmental contexts but it remains unclear whether quantitative differences in the nuclear localization of effector proteins TCF and β-catenin contribute to context-specific regulation. We investigated this question in Caenorhabditis elegans embryos by quantifying nuclear localization of fluorescently tagged SYS-1/β-catenin and POP-1/TCF and expression of Wnt ligands at cellular resolution by time-lapse microscopy and automated lineage tracing. We identified reproducible, quantitative differences that generate a subset of Wnt-signaled cells with a significantly higher nuclear concentration of the TCF/β-catenin activating complex. Specifically, β-catenin and TCF are preferentially enriched in nuclei of daughter cells whose parents also had high nuclear levels of that protein, a pattern that could influence developmental gene expression. Consistent with this, we found that expression of synthetic reporters of POP-1-dependent activation is biased towards cells that had high nuclear SYS-1 in consecutive divisions. We identified new genes whose embryonic expression patterns depend on pop-1. Most of these require POP-1 for either transcriptional activation or repression, and targets requiring POP-1 for activation are more likely to be expressed in the cells with high nuclear SYS-1 in consecutive divisions than those requiring POP-1 for repression. Taken together, these results indicate that SYS-1 and POP-1 levels are influenced by the parent cell’s SYS-1/POP-1 levels and this may provide an additional mechanism by which POP-1 regulates distinct targets in different developmental contexts.
Author Summary
The Wnt signaling pathway is active during the development of all multi-cellular animals and also improperly re-activated in many cancers. Here, we use time-lapse microscopy to quantify the nuclear localization of several proteins in response to Wnt signaling throughout early embryonic development in the nematode worm, C. elegans. We find that cells that received a Wnt signal in the previous division respond more strongly to a Wnt signal in the next division, in part by localizing more of the regulator β-catenin to the nucleus. This causes the relative enrichment of Wnt pathway proteins in the nuclei of repeatedly signaled cells, which we show likely impacts the activation of Wnt target genes. This represents a novel mechanism for the regulation of Wnt pathway targets in development and disease.
PMCID: PMC4619327  PMID: 26488501
4.  The Bicoid Class Homeodomain Factors ceh-36/OTX and unc-30/PITX Cooperate in C. elegans Embryonic Progenitor Cells to Regulate Robust Development 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(3):e1005003.
While many transcriptional regulators of pluripotent and terminally differentiated states have been identified, regulation of intermediate progenitor states is less well understood. Previous high throughput cellular resolution expression studies identified dozens of transcription factors with lineage-specific expression patterns in C. elegans embryos that could regulate progenitor identity. In this study we identified a broad embryonic role for the C. elegans OTX transcription factor ceh-36, which was previously shown to be required for the terminal specification of four neurons. ceh-36 is expressed in progenitors of over 30% of embryonic cells, yet is not required for embryonic viability. Quantitative phenotyping by computational analysis of time-lapse movies of ceh-36 mutant embryos identified cell cycle or cell migration defects in over 100 of these cells, but most defects were low-penetrance, suggesting redundancy. Expression of ceh-36 partially overlaps with that of the PITX transcription factor unc-30. unc-30 single mutants are viable but loss of both ceh-36 and unc-30 causes 100% lethality, and double mutants have significantly higher frequencies of cellular developmental defects in the cells where their expression normally overlaps. These factors are also required for robust expression of the downstream developmental regulator mls-2/HMX. This work provides the first example of genetic redundancy between the related yet evolutionarily distant OTX and PITX families of bicoid class homeodomain factors and demonstrates the power of quantitative developmental phenotyping in C. elegans to identify developmental regulators acting in progenitor cells.
Author Summary
Animals develop as one initial cell, the fertilized egg, repeatedly divides and its progeny differentiate, ultimately producing diverse cell types. This occurs in large part by the expression of unique combinations of regulatory genes, such as transcription factors, in precursors of each cell type. These early factors are typically reused in precursors of different cell types. The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans is a powerful system in which to identify developmental regulators because it has a rapid and reproducible development, yet it shares most of its developmental regulators with more complex organisms such as humans. We used state-of-the-art microscopy and computer-aided cell tracking methods to identify the developmental role of worm homologs of the OTX and PITX genes, whose human homologs play a role in the development of the brain, eye, and pituitary among other tissues. We identified broad roles for OTX in regulating development for many distinct cell types including muscles, neurons and skin, and found a redundant role for both OTX and PITX in a subset of cells. Future studies of these genes should address whether these genes also act redundantly in mammals.
PMCID: PMC4349592  PMID: 25738873
5.  A genome scale resource for in vivo tag-based protein function exploration in C. elegans 
Cell  2012;150(4):855-866.
Understanding the in vivo dynamics of protein localization and their physical interactions is important for many problems in Biology. To enable systematic protein function interrogation in a multicelluar context, we built a genome-scale transgenic platform for in vivo expression of fluorescent and affinity tagged proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans under endogenous cis regulatory control. The platform combines computer-assisted transgene design, massively parallel DNA engineering and next generation sequencing to generate a resource of 14637 genomic DNA transgenes, which covers 73% of the proteome. The multipurpose tag used allows any protein of interest to be localized in vivo or affinity purified using standard tag-based assays. We illustrate the utility of the resource by systematic chromatin immunopurification and automated 4D imaging, which produced detailed DNA binding and cell/tissue distribution maps for key transcription factor proteins
PMCID: PMC3979301  PMID: 22901814
6.  Integrative Analysis of the Caenorhabditis elegans Genome by the modENCODE Project 
Gerstein, Mark B. | Lu, Zhi John | Van Nostrand, Eric L. | Cheng, Chao | Arshinoff, Bradley I. | Liu, Tao | Yip, Kevin Y. | Robilotto, Rebecca | Rechtsteiner, Andreas | Ikegami, Kohta | Alves, Pedro | Chateigner, Aurelien | Perry, Marc | Morris, Mitzi | Auerbach, Raymond K. | Feng, Xin | Leng, Jing | Vielle, Anne | Niu, Wei | Rhrissorrakrai, Kahn | Agarwal, Ashish | Alexander, Roger P. | Barber, Galt | Brdlik, Cathleen M. | Brennan, Jennifer | Brouillet, Jeremy Jean | Carr, Adrian | Cheung, Ming-Sin | Clawson, Hiram | Contrino, Sergio | Dannenberg, Luke O. | Dernburg, Abby F. | Desai, Arshad | Dick, Lindsay | Dosé, Andréa C. | Du, Jiang | Egelhofer, Thea | Ercan, Sevinc | Euskirchen, Ghia | Ewing, Brent | Feingold, Elise A. | Gassmann, Reto | Good, Peter J. | Green, Phil | Gullier, Francois | Gutwein, Michelle | Guyer, Mark S. | Habegger, Lukas | Han, Ting | Henikoff, Jorja G. | Henz, Stefan R. | Hinrichs, Angie | Holster, Heather | Hyman, Tony | Iniguez, A. Leo | Janette, Judith | Jensen, Morten | Kato, Masaomi | Kent, W. James | Kephart, Ellen | Khivansara, Vishal | Khurana, Ekta | Kim, John K. | Kolasinska-Zwierz, Paulina | Lai, Eric C. | Latorre, Isabel | Leahey, Amber | Lewis, Suzanna | Lloyd, Paul | Lochovsky, Lucas | Lowdon, Rebecca F. | Lubling, Yaniv | Lyne, Rachel | MacCoss, Michael | Mackowiak, Sebastian D. | Mangone, Marco | McKay, Sheldon | Mecenas, Desirea | Merrihew, Gennifer | Miller, David M. | Muroyama, Andrew | Murray, John I. | Ooi, Siew-Loon | Pham, Hoang | Phippen, Taryn | Preston, Elicia A. | Rajewsky, Nikolaus | Rätsch, Gunnar | Rosenbaum, Heidi | Rozowsky, Joel | Rutherford, Kim | Ruzanov, Peter | Sarov, Mihail | Sasidharan, Rajkumar | Sboner, Andrea | Scheid, Paul | Segal, Eran | Shin, Hyunjin | Shou, Chong | Slack, Frank J. | Slightam, Cindie | Smith, Richard | Spencer, William C. | Stinson, E. O. | Taing, Scott | Takasaki, Teruaki | Vafeados, Dionne | Voronina, Ksenia | Wang, Guilin | Washington, Nicole L. | Whittle, Christina M. | Wu, Beijing | Yan, Koon-Kiu | Zeller, Georg | Zha, Zheng | Zhong, Mei | Zhou, Xingliang | Ahringer, Julie | Strome, Susan | Gunsalus, Kristin C. | Micklem, Gos | Liu, X. Shirley | Reinke, Valerie | Kim, Stuart K. | Hillier, LaDeana W. | Henikoff, Steven | Piano, Fabio | Snyder, Michael | Stein, Lincoln | Lieb, Jason D. | Waterston, Robert H.
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2010;330(6012):1775-1787.
We systematically generated large-scale data sets to improve genome annotation for the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a key model organism. These data sets include transcriptome profiling across a developmental time course, genome-wide identification of transcription factor–binding sites, and maps of chromatin organization. From this, we created more complete and accurate gene models, including alternative splice forms and candidate noncoding RNAs. We constructed hierarchical networks of transcription factor–binding and microRNA interactions and discovered chromosomal locations bound by an unusually large number of transcription factors. Different patterns of chromatin composition and histone modification were revealed between chromosome arms and centers, with similarly prominent differences between autosomes and the X chromosome. Integrating data types, we built statistical models relating chromatin, transcription factor binding, and gene expression. Overall, our analyses ascribed putative functions to most of the conserved genome.
PMCID: PMC3142569  PMID: 21177976
7.  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.
PMCID: PMC2824807  PMID: 20174564

Results 1-7 (7)