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1.  A long non-coding RNA promotes full activation of adult gene expression in the chicken α-globin domain 
Epigenetics  2013;9(1):173-181.
Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) were recently shown to regulate chromatin remodelling activities. Their function in regulating gene expression switching during specific developmental stages is poorly understood. Here we describe a nuclear, non-coding transcript responsive for the stage-specific activation of the chicken adult αD globin gene. This non-coding transcript, named α-globin transcript long non-coding RNA (lncRNA-αGT) is transcriptionally upregulated in late stages of chicken development, when active chromatin marks the adult αD gene promoter. Accordingly, the lncRNA-αGT promoter drives erythroid-specific transcription. Furthermore, loss of function experiments showed that lncRNA-αGT is required for full activation of the αD adult gene and maintenance of transcriptionally active chromatin. These findings uncovered lncRNA-αGT as an important part of the switching from embryonic to adult α-globin gene expression, and suggest a function of lncRNA-αGT in contributing to the maintenance of adult α-globin gene expression by promoting an active chromatin structure.
PMCID: PMC3928180  PMID: 24196393
long non-coding RNA; chromatin; globin genes; erythroid differentiation; development
2.  CTCF demarcates chicken embryonic α-globin gene autonomous silencing and contributes to adult stage-specific gene expression 
Epigenetics  2013;8(8):827-838.
Genomic loci composed of more than one gene are frequently subjected to differential gene expression, with the chicken α-globin domain being a clear example. In the present study we aim to understand the globin switching mechanisms responsible for the epigenetic silencing of the embryonic π gene and the transcriptional activation of the adult αD and αA genes at the genomic domain level. In early stages, we describe a physical contact between the embryonic π gene and the distal 3′ enhancer that is lost later during development. We show that such a level of regulation is achieved through the establishment of a DNA hypermethylation sub-domain that includes the embryonic gene and the adjacent genomic sequences. The multifunctional CCCTCC-binding factor (CTCF), which is located upstream of the αD gene promoter, delimits this sub-domain and creates a transition between the inactive sub-domain and the active sub-domain, which includes the adult αD gene. In avian-transformed erythroblast HD3 cells that are induced to differentiate, we found active DNA demethylation of the adult αD promoter, coincident with the incorporation of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) and concomitant with adult gene transcriptional activation. These results suggest that autonomous silencing of the embryonic π gene is needed to facilitate an optimal topological conformation of the domain. This model proposes that CTCF is contributing to a specific chromatin configuration that is necessary for differential α-globin gene expression during development.
PMCID: PMC3883786  PMID: 23880533
DNA methylation; 5-hydroxymethylcytosine; chromosome conformation capture; epigenetic silencing; CTCF; enhancer-promoter interaction
3.  The ATRX cDNA is prone to bacterial IS10 element insertions that alter its structure 
SpringerPlus  2014;3:222.
The SWI/SNF-like chromatin-remodeling protein ATRX has emerged as a key factor in the regulation of α-globin gene expression, incorporation of histone variants into the chromatin template and, more recently, as a frequently mutated gene across a wide spectrum of cancers. Therefore, the availability of a functional ATRX cDNA for expression studies is a valuable tool for the scientific community. We have identified two independent transposon insertions of a bacterial IS10 element into exon 8 of ATRX isoform 2 coding sequence in two different plasmids derived from a single source. We demonstrate that these insertion events are common and there is an insertion hotspot within the ATRX cDNA. Such IS10 insertions produce a truncated form of ATRX, which significantly compromises its nuclear localization. In turn, we describe ways to prevent IS10 insertion during propagation and cloning of ATRX-containing vectors, including optimal growth conditions, bacterial strains, and suggested sequencing strategies. Finally, we have generated an insertion-free plasmid that is available to the community for expression studies of ATRX.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-222) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4021028  PMID: 24834375
ATRX; Insertion element; Chromatin remodeling; Cloning vector; ATRX over-expression; IS10 element
4.  SIP1/NHERF2 enhances estrogen receptor alpha transactivation in breast cancer cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(11):6885-6900.
The estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) is a ligand-activated transcription factor that possesses two activating domains designated AF-1 and AF-2 that mediate its transcriptional activity. The role of AF-2 is to recruit coregulator protein complexes capable of modifying chromatin condensation status. In contrast, the mechanism responsible for the ligand-independent AF-1 activity and for its synergistic functional interaction with AF-2 is unclear. In this study, we have identified the protein Na+/H+ Exchanger RegulatoryFactor 2 (NHERF2) as an ERα-associated coactivator that interacts predominantly with the AF-1 domain of the nuclear receptor. Overexpression of NHERF2 in breast cancer MCF7 cells produced an increase in ERα transactivation. Interestingly, the presence of SRC-1 in NHERF2 stably overexpressing MCF7 cells produced a synergistic increase in ERα activity. We show further that NHERF2 interacts with ERα and SRC-1 in the promoter region of ERα target genes. The binding of NHERF2 to ERα in MCF7 cells increased cell proliferation and the ability of MCF7 cells to form tumors in a mouse model. We analyzed the expression of NHERF2 in breast cancer tumors finding a 2- to 17-fold increase in its mRNA levels in 50% of the tumor samples compared to normal breast tissue. These results indicate that NHERF2 is a coactivator of ERα that may participate in the development of estrogen-dependent breast cancer tumors.
PMCID: PMC4066751  PMID: 24771346
5.  Disruption of CTCF at the miR-125b1 locus in gynecological cancers 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:40.
In cancer cells, transcriptional gene silencing has been associated with genetic and epigenetic defects. The disruption of DNA methylation patterns and covalent histone marks has been associated with cancer development. Until recently, microRNA (miRNA) gene silencing was not well understood. In particular, miR-125b1 has been suggested to be an miRNA with tumor suppressor activity, and it has been shown to be deregulated in various human cancers. In the present study, we evaluated the DNA methylation at the CpG island proximal to the transcription start site of miR-125b1 in cancer cell lines as well as in normal tissues and gynecological tumor samples. In addition, we analyzed the association of CTCF and covalent histone modifications at the miR-125b1 locus.
To assess the DNA methylation status of the miR-125b1, genomic DNA was transformed with sodium bisulfite, and then PCR-amplified with modified primers and sequenced. The miR-125b1 gene expression was analyzed by qRT-PCR using U6 as a control for constitutive gene expression. CTCF repressive histone marks abundance was evaluated by chromatin immunoprecipitation assays.
The disruption of CTCF in breast cancer cells correlated with the incorporation of repressive histone marks such H3K9me3 and H3K27me3 as well as with aberrant DNA methylation patterns. To determine the effect of DNA methylation at the CpG island of miR-125b1 on the expression of this gene, we performed a qRT-PCR assay. We observed a significant reduction on the expression of miR-125b1 in cancer cells in comparison with controls, suggesting that DNA methylation at the CpG island might reduce miR-125b1 expression. These effects were observed in other gynecological cancers, including ovarian and cervical tumors.
A reduction of miR-125b1 expression in cancers, correlated with methylation, repressive histone marks and loss of CTCF binding at the promoter region.
PMCID: PMC3297514  PMID: 22277129
CTCF; miR-125b1; Epigenetic; Cancer; Promoter; MicroRNA; Breast cancer
6.  Chromatin everywhere 
PMCID: PMC3080739  PMID: 21325399
7.  Chromatin structure of pluripotent stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells 
Pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells are specialized cells with a dynamic chromatin structure, which is intimately connected with their pluripotency and physiology. In recent years somatic cells have been reprogrammed to a pluripotent state through over-expression of a defined set of transcription factors. These cells, known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, recapitulate ES cell properties and can be differentiated to apparently all cell lineages, making iPS cells a suitable replacement for ES cells in future regenerative medicine. Chromatin modifiers play a key function in establishing and maintaining pluripotency, therefore, elucidating the mechanisms controlling chromatin structure in both ES and iPS cells is of utmost importance to understanding their properties and harnessing their therapeutic potential. In this review, we discuss recent studies that provide a genome-wide view of the chromatin structure signature in ES cells and iPS cells and that highlight the central role of histone modifiers and chromatin remodelers in pluripotency maintenance and induction.
PMCID: PMC3080763  PMID: 21325400
embryonic stem cells; induced pluripotent stem cells; reprogramming; epigenetics; chromatin structure; differentiation
8.  Genome-wide CTCF distribution in vertebrates defines equivalent sites that can aid in the identification of disease-associated genes 
Many genomic alterations associated to human diseases localize in non-coding regulatory elements located far from the promoters they regulate, making the association of non-coding mutations or risk associated variants to target genes challenging. The range of action of a given set of enhancers is thought to be defined by insulator elements bound by CTCF. Here, we analyzed the genomic distribution of CTCF in various human, mouse and chicken cell types, demonstrating the existence of evolutionarily conserved CTCF-bound sites beyond mammals. These sites preferentially flank transcription factor-encoding genes, often associated to human diseases, and function as enhancer blockers in vivo, suggesting that they act as evolutionary invariant gene boundaries. We then applied this concept to predict and functionally demonstrate that the polymorphic variants associated to multiple sclerosis located within the EVI5 gene are actually impinging on the adjacent gene GFI1.
PMCID: PMC3196567  PMID: 21602820
9.  Gain of DNA methylation is enhanced in the absence of CTCF at the human retinoblastoma gene promoter 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:232.
Long-term gene silencing throughout cell division is generally achieved by DNA methylation and other epigenetic processes. Aberrant DNA methylation is now widely recognized to be associated with cancer and other human diseases. Here we addressed the contribution of the multifunctional nuclear factor CTCF to the epigenetic regulation of the human retinoblastoma (Rb) gene promoter in different tumoral cell lines.
To assess the DNA methylation status of the Rb promoter, genomic DNA from stably transfected human erythroleukemic K562 cells expressing a GFP reporter transgene was transformed with sodium bisulfite, and then PCR-amplified with modified primers and sequenced. Single- and multi-copy integrants with the CTCF binding site mutated were isolated and characterized by Southern blotting. Silenced transgenes were reactivated using 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine and Trichostatin-A, and their expression was monitored by fluorescent cytometry. Rb gene expression and protein abundance were assessed by RT-PCR and Western blotting in three different glioma cell lines, and DNA methylation of the promoter region was determined by sodium bisulfite sequencing, together with CTCF dissociation and methyl-CpG-binding protein incorporation by chromatin immunoprecipitation assays.
We found that the inability of CTCF to bind to the Rb promoter causes a dramatic loss of gene expression and a progressive gain of DNA methylation.
This study indicates that CTCF plays an important role in maintaining the Rb promoter in an optimal chromatin configuration. The absence of CTCF induces a rapid epigenetic silencing through a progressive gain of DNA methylation. Consequently, CTCF can now be seen as one of the epigenetic components that allows the proper configuration of tumor suppressor gene promoters. Its aberrant dissociation can then predispose key genes in cancer cells to acquire DNA methylation and epigenetic silencing.
PMCID: PMC3145615  PMID: 21663659
10.  An insulator embedded in the chicken α-globin locus regulates chromatin domain configuration and differential gene expression 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(1):89-103.
Genome organization into transcriptionally active domains denotes one of the first levels of gene expression regulation. Although the chromatin domain concept is generally accepted, only little is known on how domain organization impacts the regulation of differential gene expression. Insulators might hold answers to address this issue as they delimit and organize chromatin domains. We have previously identified a CTCF-dependent insulator with enhancer-blocking activity embedded in the 5′ non-coding region of the chicken α-globin domain. Here, we demonstrate that this element, called the αEHS-1.4 insulator, protects a transgene against chromosomal position effects in stably transfected cell lines and transgenic mice. We found that this insulator can create a regulated chromatin environment that coincides with the onset of adult α-globin gene expression. Furthermore, such activity is in part dependent on the in vivo regulated occupancy of CTCF at the αEHS-1.4 element. Insulator function is also regulated by CTCF poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation. Our results suggest that the αEHS-1.4 insulator contributes in organizing the chromatin structure of the α-globin gene domain and prevents activation of adult α-globin gene expression at the erythroblast stage via CTCF.
PMCID: PMC3017597  PMID: 20813760
11.  GATA-1 Modulates the Chromatin Structure and Activity of the Chicken α-Globin 3′ Enhancer▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;28(2):575-586.
Long-distance regulatory elements and local chromatin structure are critical for proper regulation of gene expression. Here we characterize the chromatin conformation of the chicken α-globin silencer-enhancer elements located 3′ of the domain. We found a characteristic and erythrocyte-specific structure between the previously defined silencer and the enhancer, defined by two nuclease hypersensitive sites, which appear when the enhancer is active during erythroid differentiation. Fine mapping of these sites demonstrates the absence of a positioned nucleosome and the association of GATA-1. Functional analyses of episomal vectors, as well as stably integrated constructs, revealed that GATA-1 plays a major role in defining both the chromatin structure and the enhancer activity. We detected a progressive enrichment of histone acetylation on critical enhancer nuclear factor binding sites, in correlation with the formation of an apparent nucleosome-free region. On the basis of these results, we propose that the local chromatin structure of the chicken α-globin enhancer plays a central role in its capacity to differentially regulate α-globin gene expression during erythroid differentiation and development.
PMCID: PMC2223419  PMID: 17984219
12.  Cyclin D1 Is Transcriptionally Down-Regulated by ZO-2 via an E Box and the Transcription Factor c-Myc 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2007;18(12):4826-4836.
Recent reports have indicated the participation of tight junction (TJ) proteins in the regulation of gene expression and cell proliferation. Here, we have studied the role of zona occludens (ZO)-2, a TJ peripheral protein, in the regulation of cyclin D1 transcription. We found that ZO-2 down-regulates cyclin D1 transcription in a dose-dependent manner. To understand how ZO-2 represses cyclin D1 promoter activity, we used deletion analyses and found that ZO-2 negatively regulates cyclin D1 transcription via an E box and that it diminishes cell proliferation. Because ZO-2 does not associate directly with DNA, electrophoretic mobility shift assay and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assay were used to identify the transcription factors mediating the ZO-2–repressive effect. c-Myc was found to bind the E box present in the cyclin D1 promoter, and the overexpression of c-Myc augmented the inhibition generated by ZO-2 transfection. The presence of ZO-2 and c-Myc in the same complex was further demonstrated by immunoprecipitation. ChIP and reporter gene assays using histone deacetylases (HDACs) inhibitors demonstrated that HDACs are necessary for ZO-2 repression and that HDAC1 is recruited to the E box. We conclude that ZO-2 down-regulates cyclin D1 transcription by interacting with the c-Myc/E box element and by recruiting HDAC1.
PMCID: PMC2096592  PMID: 17881732
13.  A CTCF-Dependent Silencer Located in the Differentially Methylated Area May Regulate Expression of a Housekeeping Gene Overlapping a Tissue-Specific Gene Domain 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2006;26(5):1589-1597.
The tissue-specific chicken α-globin gene domain represents one of the paradigms, in terms of its constitutively open chromatin conformation and the location of several regulatory elements within the neighboring housekeeping gene. Here, we show that an 0.2-kb DNA fragment located ∼4 kb upstream to the chicken α-globin gene cluster contains a binding site for the multifunctional protein factor CTCF and possesses silencer activity which depends on CTCF binding, as demonstrated by site-directed mutagenesis of the CTCF recognition sequence. CTCF was found to be associated with this recognition site in erythroid cells but not in lymphoid cells where the site is methylated. A functional promoter directing the transcription of the apparently housekeeping ggPRX gene was found 120 bp from the CTCF-dependent silencer. The data are discussed in terms of the hypothesis that the CTCF-dependent silencer stabilizes the level of ggPRX gene transcription in erythroid cells where the promoter of this gene may be influenced by positive cis-regulatory signals activating α-globin gene transcription.
PMCID: PMC1430243  PMID: 16478981
14.  CTCF-dependent enhancer blockers at the upstream region of the chicken α-globin gene domain 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(4):1354-1362.
The eukaryotic genome is partitioned into chromatin domains containing coding and intergenic regions. Insulators have been suggested to play a role in establishing and maintaining chromatin domains. Here we describe the identification and characterization of two separable enhancer blocking elements located in the 5′ flanking region of the chicken α-globin domain, 11–16 kb upstream of the embryonic α-type π gene in a DNA fragment harboring a MAR (matrix attachment region) element and three DNase I hypersensitive sites (HSs). The most upstream enhancer blocking element co-localizes with the MAR element and an erythroid-specific HS. The second enhancer blocking element roughly co-localizes with a constitutive HS. The third erythroid-specific HS present within the DNA fragment studied harbors a silencing, but not an enhancer blocking, activity. The 11 zinc-finger CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF), which plays an essential role in enhancer blocking activity in many previously characterized vertebrate insulators, is found to bind the two α-globin enhancer blocking elements. Detailed analysis has demonstrated that mutation of the CTCF binding site within the most upstream enhancer blocking element abolishes the enhancer blocking activity. The results are discussed with respect to special features of the tissue-specific α-globin gene domain located in a permanently open chromatin area.
PMCID: PMC390289  PMID: 14981153
15.  Retrovirus silencer blocking by the cHS4 insulator is CTCF independent 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(18):5317-5323.
Silencing of retrovirus vectors poses a significant obstacle to genetic manipulation of stem cells and their use in gene therapy. We describe a mammalian silencer blocking assay using insulator elements positioned between retrovirus silencer elements and an LCRβ-globin reporter transgene. In transgenic mice, we show that retrovirus silencers are blocked by the cHS4 insulator. Silencer blocking is independent of the CTCF binding site and is most effective when flanking the internal reporter transgene. These data distinguish silencer blocking activity by cHS4 from its enhancer blocking activity. Retrovirus vectors can be created at high titer with one but not two internal dimer cHS4 cores. cHS4 in the LTRs has no effect on expression in transduced F9 cells, suggesting that position effect blocking is not sufficient to escape silencing. The Drosophila insulators gypsy and Scs fail to block silencing in transgenic mice, but gypsy stimulates vector expression 2-fold when located in the LTRs of an infectious retrovirus. The silencer blocking assay complements existing insulator assays in mammalian cells, provides new insight into mechanisms of insulation and is a valuable tool to identify additional silencer blocking insulators that cooperate with cHS4 to improve stem cell retrovirus vector design.
PMCID: PMC203325  PMID: 12954767

Results 1-15 (15)