Fertilization of the oocyte by the sperm results in the formation of a totipotent zygote, in which the maternal and paternal chromatin is enclosed in two pronuclei undergoing distinct programmes of transcriptional activation and chromatin remodelling. The highly packaged paternal chromatin delivered by the sperm is decondensed and acquires a number of specific epigenetic marks, but markedly remains devoid of those usually associated with constitutive heterochromatin. During this period the maternal chromatin remains relatively stable except for marks associated with transcription and/or replication such as arginine methylation and H3/H4 acetylation. The embryo then undergoes a series of mitotic divisions without significant additional growth but differentiation, resulting in the formation of a blastocyst containing distinct cell types. The chromatin remodelling events during these stages are likely to be important in establishing the nuclear foundations required for later triggers of differentiation. Overall, we summarize three important points during these earliest reprogramming events: (i) relatively stable maternal chromatin after fertilization, (ii) rapid acquisition of specific histone marks by the paternal chromatin during the hours that follow fertilization and (iii) rapid remodelling of constitutive heterochromatic marks and modifications in the core of the nucleosome from the first mitotic division. These features are likely to be required for the creation of a chromatin environment compatible with cellular reprogramming and plasticity.
Mouse embryo; epigenetic reprogramming; cell plasticity; totipotency; chromatin; heterochromatin; methylation
Understanding the links between genetic, epigenetic and non-genetic factors throughout the lifespan and across generations and their role in disease susceptibility and disease progression offer entirely new avenues and solutions to major problems in our society. To overcome the numerous challenges, we have come up with nine major conclusions to set the vision for future policies and research agendas at the European level.
Genome; Epigenome; Microbiome; Environment
When pluripotent cells are exposed to a uniform culture environment they routinely display heterogeneous gene expression. Aspects of this heterogeneity, such as Nanog expression, are linked to differences in the propensity of individual cells to either self-renew or commit towards differentiation. Recent findings have provided new insight into the underlying causes of this heterogeneity, which we summarise here using Nanog, a key regulator of pluripotency, as a model gene. We discuss the role of transcription factor heterogeneity in facilitating the intrinsically dynamic and stochastic nature of the pluripotency network, which in turn provides a potential benefit to a population of cells that needs to balance cell fate decisions.
Pluripotency; Epiblast; Embryonic stem cell (ESC); Heterogeneity; Transcription; Monoallelic
In mammals, oocyte fertilisation by sperm initiates development. This is followed by epigenetic reprogramming of both parental genomes, which involves de-novo establishment of chromatin domains. In the mouse embryo, methylation of histone H31 establishes an epigenetic asymmetry and is predominant in the maternal pronucleus2-5. However, the role of (i) differential incorporation of histone H3 variants in the parental chromatin and of (ii) modified residues within specific histone variants has not been addressed. Here we show that the histone variant H3.3, and in particular lysine 27, is required for the establishment of heterochromatin in the mouse embryo. H3.3 localises to paternal pericentromeric chromatin during S-phase at the time of transcription of pericentromeric repeats. Mutation of H3.3K27, but not H3.1K27, results in aberrant accumulation of pericentromeric transcripts, HP1 mislocalisation, dysfunctional chromosome segregation and developmental arrest. This phenotype is rescued by injection of dsRNA derived from pericentromeric transcripts, indicating a functional link between H3.3K27 and silencing of such regions via an RNAi pathway. Our work demonstrates a role for a modifiable residue within a histone variant-specific context during reprogramming and identifies a novel function for mammalian H3.3 in the initial formation of dsRNA-dependent heterochromatin.
Histone variants are non-allelic protein isoforms that play key roles in diversifying chromatin structure. The known number of such variants has greatly increased in recent years, but the lack of naming conventions for them has led to a variety of naming styles, multiple synonyms and misleading homographs that obscure variant relationships and complicate database searches. We propose here a unified nomenclature for variants of all five classes of histones that uses consistent but flexible naming conventions to produce names that are informative and readily searchable. The nomenclature builds on historical usage and incorporates phylogenetic relationships, which are strong predictors of structure and function. A key feature is the consistent use of punctuation to represent phylogenetic divergence, making explicit the relationships among variant subtypes that have previously been implicit or unclear. We recommend that by default new histone variants be named with organism-specific paralog-number suffixes that lack phylogenetic implication, while letter suffixes be reserved for structurally distinct clades of variants. For clarity and searchability, we encourage the use of descriptors that are separate from the phylogeny-based variant name to indicate developmental and other properties of variants that may be independent of structure.
It has been generally accepted that the mammalian embryo starts its development with all cells identical and only when inside and outside cells form do differences between cells first emerge. However, recent findings show that cells in the mouse embryo can differ in their developmental fate and potency already by the 4-cell-stage1-4. Such differences depend on the orientation and order of the cleavage divisions that generated them2,5. Since epigenetic marks are suggested to be involved in sustaining pluripotency6,7, we considered that such developmental properties might be achieved through epigenetic mechanisms. Here, we show that modification of histone H3, through methylation of specific arginine residues, correlates with cell fate and potency. Levels of H3 methylation at specific arginines are maximal in 4-cell blastomeres that will contribute to the ICM and polar trophectoderm and undertake full development when combined together in chimeras. Arginine methylation of H3 is minimal in cells whose progeny contributes more to the mural trophectoderm and that show compromised development when combined in chimeras. This suggests that higher levels of H3 arginine methylation predispose blastomeres to contribute to the pluripotent cells of the ICM. We confirm this prediction by overexpressing the H3-specific arginine methyltransferase, CARM1, in individual blastomeres and show this directs their progeny to the ICM and results in a dramatic upregulation of Nanog and Sox2. Thus, our results identify specific histone modifications as the earliest known epigenetic marker contributing to development of ICM and show that manipulation of epigenetic information influences cell fate determination.
Initiation of the development of the anterior-posterior axis in the mouse embryo has been thought to take place only when the anterior visceral endoderm (AVE) emerges and starts its asymmetric migration. However, expression of Lefty1, a marker of the AVE, was recently found to initiate before embryo implantation. This finding has raised two important questions: are the cells that show such early, pre-implantation expression of this AVE marker the real precursors of the AVE and, if so, how does this contribute to the establishment of the AVE? Here, we address both of these questions. First, we show that the expression of another AVE marker, Cer1, also commences before implantation and its expression becomes consolidated in the subset of ICM cells that comprise the primitive endoderm. Second, to determine whether the cells showing this early Cer1 expression are true precursors of the AVE, we set up conditions to trace these cells in time-lapse studies from early peri-implantation stages until the AVE emerges and becomes asymmetrically displaced. We found that Cer1-expressing cells are asymmetrically located after implantation and, as the embryo grows, they become dispersed into two or three clusters. The expression of Cer1 in the proximal domain is progressively diminished, while it is reinforced in the distal-lateral domain. Our time-lapse studies demonstrate that this distal-lateral domain is incorporated into the AVE together with cells in which Cer1 expression begins only after implantation. Thus, the AVE is formed from both part of an ancestral population of Cerl-expressing cells and cells that acquire Cer1 expression later. Finally, we demonstrate that when the AVE shifts asymmetrically to establish the anterior pole, this occurs towards the region where the earlier postimplantation expression of Cer1 was strongest. Together, these results suggest that the orientation of the anterior-posterior axis is already anticipated before AVE migration.
The extraembryonic ectoderm (ExE) of the mouse conceptus is known to play a role in embryo patterning by signaling to the underlying epiblast and surrounding visceral endoderm. Bmp4 is one of the key ExE signaling molecules and has been recently implicated to participate in regulating development and migration of the anterior visceral endoderm (AVE). However, it remains unclear when exactly BMP4 signaling starts to regulate AVE positioning. To examine this, we have chosen to affect BMP4 function at two different time points, at embryonic day 5.25 (E5.25), thus before AVE migration, and E5.75, just after AVE migration. To this end, an RNAi technique was used, which consisted of the injection of Bmp4 dsRNA into the proamniotic cavity of the egg cylinder followed by its targeted electroporation into the ExE. This resulted in specific knockdown of Bmp4. It was found that Bmp4 RNAi at E5.25, but not at E5.75, led to an abnormal pattern of expression of the AVE marker Cerberus-like. Thus, BMP4 signaling appears to affect the expression of Cer1 at a specific time window. This RNAi approach provides a convenient means to study spatial and temporal function of genes shortly after embryo implantation.
anterior visceral endoderm; anterior-posterior axis; Bmp4; Cerberus-like; electroporation; mouse embryo; RNA interference
PR-Set7/Set8/KMT5A is the sole enzyme known to catalyze monomethylation of histone H4 lysine 20 (H4K20) and is present only in multicellular organisms that compact a large fraction of their DNA. We found that mouse embryos that are homozygous null mutants for the gene PR-Set7 display early embryonic lethality prior to the eight-cell stage. Death was due to the absence of PR-Set7 catalytic activity, since microinjection of the wild type, but not a catalytically inactive version, into two-cell embryos rescued the phenotype. A lack of PR-Set7 activity resulted not only in depletion of H4K20me1 but also in reduced levels of the H4K20me2/3 marks catalyzed by the Suv4-20h1/h2 enzymes, implying that H4K20me1 may be essential for the function of these enzymes to ensure the dimethylated and trimethylated states. Embryonic stem cells that were inducibly deleted for PR-Set7 passed through an initial G2/M phase, but the progeny were defective at the subsequent S and G2/M phases, exhibiting a delay in their cell cycle, accumulation at G2/M, massive DNA damage, and improper mitotic chromosome condensation. Cell cycle analysis after synchronization indicated that the defects were a consequence of decreased H4K20me1 due to the absence of PR-Set7. Most importantly, the lack of H4K20me1 also resulted in defects in chromosome condensation in interphase nuclei. These results demonstrate the critical role of H4K20 monomethylation in mammals in a developmental context.
Condensation of chromatin, mediated in part by posttranslational modifications of histones, is essential for cell division during mitosis. Histone H3 tails are dimethylated on lysine (Kme2) and become phosphorylated on serine (Sp) residues during mitosis. We have explored the possibility that these double modifications are involved in the establishment of H3 tail conformations during the cell cycle. Here we describe a specific chromatin conformation occurring at Kme2 and adjacently phosphorylated S of H3 tails upon formation of a hydrogen bond. This conformation appears exclusively between early prophase and early anaphase of the mitosis, when chromatin condensation is highest. Moreover, we observed that the conformed H3Kme2Sp tail is present at the diplotene and metaphase stages in spermatocytes and oocytes. Our data together with results obtained by cryoelectron microscopy suggest that the conformation of Kme2Sp-modified H3 tails changes during mitosis and meiosis. This is supported by biostructural modeling of a modified histone H3 tail bound by an antibody, indicating that Kme2Sp-modified H3 tails can adopt at least two different conformations. Thus, the H3K9me2S10p and the H3K27me2S28p sites are involved in the acquisition of specific chromatin conformations during chromatin condensation for cell division.
The early preimplantation mouse embryo is a unique system where it is possible to explore the foundations of totipotency and differentiation. Following fertilization, a single cell, the zygote, will give rise to all tissues of the organism. The first signs of differentiation in the embryo are evident at the blastocyst stage with the formation of the trophectoderm, a differentiated tissue that envelopes the inner cell mass. The question of when and how the cells start to be different from each other in the embryo is central to developmental biology: as cell fate decisions are undertaken, loss of totipotency comes about. Although the blastomeres of the preimplantation embryo are totipotent, as the embryo develops some differences appear to develop between them which are, at least partially, related to the epigenetic information of each of these cells. The hypothesis of epigenetic asymmetries acting as driver for lineage allocation is presented. Although there are now some indications that epigenetic mechanisms are involved in cell fate determination, much work is needed to discover how such mechanisms are set in play upon fertilization and how they are transmitted through cell division. These considerations are further discussed in the context of preimplantation genetic diagnosis: does it matter to the embryo which cell is used for genetic diagnosis? The exquisite complexity and richness of chromatin-regulated events in the early embryo will certainly be the subject of exciting research in the future.
cell fate; epigenetics; histone methylation; mouse embryo; pluripotency
The first events of the development of any embryo are under maternal control until the zygotic genome becomes activated. In the mouse embryo, the major wave of transcription activation occurs at the 2-cell stage, but transcription starts already at the zygote (1-cell) stage. Very little is known about the molecules involved in this process. We show that the transcription intermediary factor 1 α (TIF1α) is involved in modulating gene expression during the first wave of transcription activation. At the onset of genome activation, TIF1α translocates from the cytoplasm into the pronuclei to sites of active transcription. These sites are enriched with the chromatin remodelers BRG-1 and SNF2H. When we ablate TIF1α through either RNA interference (RNAi) or microinjection of specific antibodies into zygotes, most of the embryos arrest their development at the 2–4-cell stage transition. The ablation of TIF1α leads to mislocalization of RNA polymerase II and the chromatin remodelers SNF2H and BRG-1. Using a chromatin immunoprecipitation cloning approach, we identify genes that are regulated by TIF1α in the zygote and find that transcription of these genes is misregulated upon TIF1α ablation. We further show that the expression of some of these genes is dependent on SNF2H and that RNAi for SNF2H compromises development, suggesting that TIF1α mediates activation of gene expression in the zygote via SNF2H. These studies indicate that TIF1α is a factor that modulates the expression of a set of genes during the first wave of genome activation in the mouse embryo.
Studies of gene function in the mouse have relied mainly on gene targeting via homologous recombination. However, this approach is difficult to apply in specific windows of time, and to simultaneously knock-down multiple genes. Here we report an efficient method for dsRNA-mediated gene silencing in late cleavage-stage mouse embryos that permits examination of phenotypes at post-implantation stages.
We show that introduction of Bmp4 dsRNA into intact blastocysts by electroporation recapitulates the genetic Bmp4 null phenotype at gastrulation. It also reveals a novel role for Bmp4 in the regulation the anterior visceral endoderm specific gene expression and its positioning. We also show that RNAi can be used to simultaneously target several genes. When applied to the three murine isoforms of Dishevelled, it leads to earlier defects than previously observed in double knock-outs. These include severe delays in post-implantation development and defects in the anterior midline and neural folds at headfold stages.
Our results indicate that the BMP4 signalling pathway contributes to the development of the anterior visceral endoderm, and reveal an early functional redundancy between the products of the murine Dishevelled genes. The proposed approach constitutes a powerful tool to screen the functions of genes that govern the development of the mouse embryo.
We have characterized a 700 bp enhancer element around –6 kb relative to the HNF4α1 transcription start. This element increases activity and confers glucocorticoid induction to a heterologous as well as the homologous promoters in differentiated hepatoma cells and is transactivated by HNF4α1, HNF4α7, HNF1α and HNF1β in dedifferentiated hepatoma cells. A 240 bp sub-region conserves basal and hormone-induced enhancer activity. It contains HNF1, HNF4, HNF3 and C/EBP binding sites as shown by DNase I footprinting and electrophoretic mobility shift assays using nuclear extracts and/or recombinant HNF1α and HNF4α1. Mutation analyses showed that the HNF1 site is essential for HNF1α transactivation and is required for full basal enhancer activity, as is the C/EBP site. Glucocorticoid response element consensus sites which overlap the C/EBP, HNF4 and HNF3 sites are crucial for optimal hormonal induction. We present a model that accounts for weak expression of HNF4α1 in the embryonic liver and strong expression in the newborn/adult liver via the binding sites identified in the enhancer.