Histone acetyl transferases (HATs) play distinct roles in many cellular processes and are frequently misregulated in cancers. Here, we study the regulatory potential of MYST1-(MOF)-containing MSL and NSL complexes in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and neuronal progenitors. We find that both complexes influence transcription by targeting promoters and TSS-distal enhancers. In contrast to flies, the MSL complex is not exclusively enriched on the X chromosome, yet it is crucial for mammalian X chromosome regulation as it specifically regulates Tsix, the major repressor of Xist lncRNA. MSL depletion leads to decreased Tsix expression, reduced REX1 recruitment, and consequently, enhanced accumulation of Xist and variable numbers of inactivated X chromosomes during early differentiation. The NSL complex provides additional, Tsix-independent repression of Xist by maintaining pluripotency. MSL and NSL complexes therefore act synergistically by using distinct pathways to ensure a fail-safe mechanism for the repression of X inactivation in ESCs.
Gene expression is controlled by a complicated network of mechanisms involving a wide range of enzymes and protein complexes. Many of these mechanisms are identical in males and females, but some are not. Female mammals, for example, carry two X chromosomes, whereas males have one X and one Y chromosome. Since the two X chromosomes in females contain essentially the same set of genes, one of them undergoes silencing to prevent the overproduction of certain proteins. This process, which is called X-inactivation, occurs during different stages of development and it must be tightly controlled.
An enzyme called MOF was originally found in flies in two distinct complexes—the male-specific lethal (MSL) complex, which forms only in males, and the non-specific lethal (NSL) complex, which is ubiquitous in both males and females. These complexes are evolutionary conserved and are also found in mammals. While mammalian MOF is reasonably well understood, the MSL and NSL complexes are not, so Chelmicki, Dündar et al. have used various sequencing techniques, in combination with biochemical experiments, to investigate their roles in embryonic stem cells and neuronal progenitor cells in mice.
These experiments show that MSL and NSL complexes engage in the regulation of thousands of genes. Although the two complexes often show different gene preferences, they often regulate the same cellular processes. The MSL/NSL-dependent regulation of X chromosome inactivation is a prime example of this phenomenon.
The MSL complex reduces the production of an RNA molecule called Xist, which is responsible for the inactivation of one of the two X chromosomes in females. The NSL complex, meanwhile, ensures the production of multiple proteins that are crucial for the development of embryonic stem cells, and are also involved in the repression of X inactivation.
This analysis sheds light on how different complexes can cooperate and complement each other in order to reach the same goal in the cell. The knowledge gained from this study will pave the way towards better understanding of complex processes such as embryonic development, organogenesis and the pathogenesis of disorders like cancer.