Publications

Channathodiyil P, May K, Segonds-Pichon A, Smith PD, Cook SJ, Houseley J Epigenetics, Signalling, Bioinformatics

Mutations and gene amplifications that confer drug resistance emerge frequently during chemotherapy, but their mechanism and timing are poorly understood. Here, we investigate amplification events that underlie resistance to the MEK inhibitor selumetinib (AZD6244/ARRY-142886) in COLO205 cells, a well-characterized model for reproducible emergence of drug resistance, and show that amplifications acquired are the primary cause of resistance. Selumetinib causes long-term G1 arrest accompanied by reduced expression of DNA replication and repair genes, but cells stochastically re-enter the cell cycle during treatment despite continued repression of pERK1/2. Most DNA replication and repair genes are re-expressed as cells enter S and G2; however, mRNAs encoding a subset of factors important for error-free replication and chromosome segregation, including TIPIN, PLK2 and PLK3, remain at low abundance. This suggests that DNA replication following escape from G1 arrest in drug is more error prone and provides a potential explanation for the DNA damage observed under long-term RAF-MEK-ERK1/2 pathway inhibition. To test the hypothesis that escape from G1 arrest in drug promotes amplification, we exploited the combination of palbociclib and selumetinib. Combined treatment with selumetinib and a dose of palbociclib sufficient to reinforce G1 arrest in selumetinib-sensitive cells, but not to impair proliferation of resistant cells, delays the emergence of resistant colonies, meaning that escape from G1 arrest is critical in the formation of resistant clones. Our findings demonstrate that acquisition of MEK inhibitor resistance often occurs through gene amplification and can be suppressed by impeding cell cycle entry in drug.

+view abstract NAR cancer, PMID: 36267209 Dec 2022

Nunes C, Depestel L, Mus L, Keller KM, Delhaye L, Louwagie A, Rishfi M, Whale A, Kara N, Andrews SR, Dela Cruz F, You D, Siddiquee A, Cologna CT, De Craemer S, Dolman E, Bartenhagen C, De Vloed F, Sanders E, Eggermont A, Bekaert SL, Van Loocke W, Bek JW, Dewyn G, Loontiens S, Van Isterdael G, Decaesteker B, Tilleman L, Van Nieuwerburgh F, Vermeirssen V, Van Neste C, Ghesquiere B, Goossens S, Eyckerman S, De Preter K, Fischer M, Houseley J, Molenaar J, De Wilde B, Roberts SS, Durinck K, Speleman F Epigenetics, Bioinformatics

High-risk neuroblastoma, a pediatric tumor originating from the sympathetic nervous system, has a low mutation load but highly recurrent somatic DNA copy number variants. Previously, segmental gains and/or amplifications allowed identification of drivers for neuroblastoma development. Using this approach, combined with gene dosage impact on expression and survival, we identified ribonucleotide reductase subunit M2 (RRM2) as a candidate dependency factor further supported by growth inhibition upon in vitro knockdown and accelerated tumor formation in a neuroblastoma zebrafish model coexpressing human RRM2 with MYCN. Forced RRM2 induction alleviates excessive replicative stress induced by CHK1 inhibition, while high RRM2 expression in human neuroblastomas correlates with high CHK1 activity. MYCN-driven zebrafish tumors with RRM2 co-overexpression exhibit differentially expressed DNA repair genes in keeping with enhanced ATR-CHK1 signaling activity. In vitro, RRM2 inhibition enhances intrinsic replication stress checkpoint addiction. Last, combinatorial RRM2-CHK1 inhibition acts synergistic in high-risk neuroblastoma cell lines and patient-derived xenograft models, illustrating the therapeutic potential.

+view abstract Science advances, PMID: 35857500 15 Jul 2022

Whale AJ, King M, Hull RM, Krueger F, Houseley J Epigenetics

Adaptive mutations can cause drug resistance in cancers and pathogens, and increase the tolerance of agricultural pests and diseases to chemical treatment. When and how adaptive mutations form is often hard to discern, but we have shown that adaptive copy number amplification of the copper resistance gene CUP1 occurs in response to environmental copper due to CUP1 transcriptional activation. Here we dissect the mechanism by which CUP1 transcription in budding yeast stimulates copy number variation (CNV). We show that transcriptionally stimulated CNV requires TREX-2 and Mediator, such that cells lacking TREX-2 or Mediator respond normally to copper but cannot acquire increased resistance. Mediator and TREX-2 can cause replication stress by tethering transcribed loci to nuclear pores, a process known as gene gating, and transcription at the CUP1 locus causes a TREX-2-dependent accumulation of replication forks indicative of replication fork stalling. TREX-2-dependent CUP1 gene amplification occurs by a Rad52 and Rad51-mediated homologous recombination mechanism that is enhanced by histone H3K56 acetylation and repressed by Pol32 and Pif1. CUP1 amplification is also critically dependent on late-firing replication origins present in the CUP1 repeats, and mutations that remove or inactivate these origins strongly suppress the acquisition of copper resistance. We propose that replicative stress imposed by nuclear pore association causes replication bubbles from these origins to collapse soon after activation, leaving a tract of H3K56-acetylated chromatin that promotes secondary recombination events during elongation after replication fork re-start events. The capacity for inefficient replication origins to promote copy number variation renders certain genomic regions more fragile than others, and therefore more likely to undergo adaptive evolution through de novo gene amplification.

+view abstract Nucleic acids research, PMID: 35018465 08 Jan 2022

Kara N, Krueger F, Rugg-Gunn P, Houseley J Epigenetics, Bioinformatics

Faithful replication of the entire genome requires replication forks to copy large contiguous tracts of DNA, and sites of persistent replication fork stalling present a major threat to genome stability. Understanding the distribution of sites at which replication forks stall, and the ensuing fork processing events, requires genome-wide methods that profile replication fork position and the formation of recombinogenic DNA ends. Here, we describe Transferase-Activated End Ligation sequencing (TrAEL-seq), a method that captures single-stranded DNA 3' ends genome-wide and with base pair resolution. TrAEL-seq labels both DNA breaks and replication forks, providing genome-wide maps of replication fork progression and fork stalling sites in yeast and mammalian cells. Replication maps are similar to those obtained by Okazaki fragment sequencing; however, TrAEL-seq is performed on asynchronous populations of wild-type cells without incorporation of labels, cell sorting, or biochemical purification of replication intermediates, rendering TrAEL-seq far simpler and more widely applicable than existing replication fork direction profiling methods. The specificity of TrAEL-seq for DNA 3' ends also allows accurate detection of double-strand break sites after the initiation of DNA end resection, which we demonstrate by genome-wide mapping of meiotic double-strand break hotspots in a dmc1Δ mutant that is competent for end resection but not strand invasion. Overall, TrAEL-seq provides a flexible and robust methodology with high sensitivity and resolution for studying DNA replication and repair, which will be of significant use in determining mechanisms of genome instability.

+view abstract PLoS biology, PMID: 33760805 24 Mar 2021

Channathodiyil P, Houseley J Epigenetics

A simple method for extraction of high quality RNA from cells that have been fixed, stained and sorted by flow cytometry would allow routine transcriptome analysis of highly purified cell populations and single cells. However, formaldehyde fixation impairs RNA extraction and inhibits RNA amplification. Here we show that good quality RNA can be readily extracted from stained and sorted mammalian cells if formaldehyde is replaced by glyoxal-a well-characterised fixative that is widely compatible with immunofluorescent staining methods. Although both formaldehyde and glyoxal efficiently form protein-protein crosslinks, glyoxal does not crosslink RNA to proteins nor form stable RNA adducts, ensuring that RNA remains accessible and amenable to enzymatic manipulation after glyoxal fixation. We find that RNA integrity is maintained through glyoxal fixation, permeabilisation with methanol or saponin, indirect immunofluorescent staining and flow sorting. RNA can then be extracted by standard methods and processed into RNA-seq libraries using commercial kits; mRNA abundances measured by poly(A)+ RNA-seq correlate well between freshly harvested cells and fixed, stained and sorted cells. We validate the applicability of this approach to flow cytometry by staining MCF-7 cells for the intracellular G2/M-specific antigen cyclin B1 (CCNB1), and show strong enrichment for G2/M-phase cells based on transcriptomic data. Switching to glyoxal fixation with RNA-compatible staining methods requires only minor adjustments of most existing staining and sorting protocols, and should facilitate routine transcriptomic analysis of sorted cells.

+view abstract PloS one, PMID: 33481798 2021

Prada-Luengo I, Møller HD, Henriksen RA, Gao Q, Larsen CE, Alizadeh S, Maretty L, Houseley J, Regenberg B Epigenetics

Circular DNA can arise from all parts of eukaryotic chromosomes. In yeast, circular ribosomal DNA (rDNA) accumulates dramatically as cells age, however little is known about the accumulation of other chromosome-derived circles or the contribution of such circles to genetic variation in aged cells. We profiled circular DNA in Saccharomyces cerevisiae populations sampled when young and after extensive aging. Young cells possessed highly diverse circular DNA populations but 94% of the circular DNA were lost after ∼15 divisions, whereas rDNA circles underwent massive accumulation to >95% of circular DNA. Circles present in both young and old cells were characterized by replication origins including circles from unique regions of the genome and repetitive regions: rDNA and telomeric Y' regions. We further observed that circles can have flexible inheritance patterns: [HXT6/7circle] normally segregates to mother cells but in low glucose is present in up to 50% of cells, the majority of which must have inherited this circle from their mother. Interestingly, [HXT6/7circle] cells are eventually replaced by cells carrying stable chromosomal HXT6 HXT6/7 HXT7 amplifications, suggesting circular DNAs are intermediates in chromosomal amplifications. In conclusion, the heterogeneity of circular DNA offers flexibility in adaptation, but this heterogeneity is remarkably diminished with age.

+view abstract Nucleic acids research, PMID: 32609810 01 Jul 2020

Hull RM, Houseley J Epigenetics

Carefully maintained and precisely inherited chromosomal DNA provides long-term genetic stability, but eukaryotic cells facing environmental challenges can benefit from the accumulation of less stable DNA species. Circular DNA molecules lacking centromeres segregate randomly or asymmetrically during cell division, following non-Mendelian inheritance patterns that result in high copy number instability and massive heterogeneity across populations. Such circular DNA species, variously known as extrachromosomal circular DNA (eccDNA), microDNA, double minutes or extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA), are becoming recognised as a major source of the genetic variation exploited by cancer cells and pathogenic eukaryotes to acquire drug resistance. In budding yeast, circular DNA molecules derived from the ribosomal DNA (ERCs) have been long known to accumulate with age, but it is now clear that aged yeast also accumulate other high-copy protein-coding circular DNAs acquired through both random and environmentally-stimulated recombination processes. Here, we argue that accumulation of circular DNA provides a reservoir of heterogeneous genetic material that can allow rapid adaptation of aged cells to environmental insults, but avoids the negative fitness impacts on normal growth of unsolicited gene amplification in the young population.

+view abstract Current genetics, PMID: 32296868 15 Apr 2020

Hull RM, King M, Pizza G, Krueger F, Vergara X, Houseley J Epigenetics, Genomics

Extrachromosomal circular DNA (eccDNA) facilitates adaptive evolution by allowing rapid and extensive gene copy number variation and is implicated in the pathology of cancer and ageing. Here, we demonstrate that yeast aged under environmental copper accumulate high levels of eccDNA containing the copper-resistance gene CUP1. Transcription of the tandemly repeated CUP1 gene causes CUP1 eccDNA accumulation, which occurs in the absence of phenotypic selection. We have developed a sensitive and quantitative eccDNA sequencing pipeline that reveals CUP1 eccDNA accumulation on copper exposure to be exquisitely site specific, with no other detectable changes across the eccDNA complement. eccDNA forms de novo from the CUP1 locus through processing of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) by Sae2, Mre11 and Mus81, and genome-wide analyses show that other protein coding eccDNA species in aged yeast share a similar biogenesis pathway. Although abundant, we find that CUP1 eccDNA does not replicate efficiently, and high-copy numbers in aged cells arise through frequent formation events combined with asymmetric DNA segregation. The transcriptional stimulation of CUP1 eccDNA formation shows that age-linked genetic change varies with transcription pattern, resulting in gene copy number profiles tailored by environment.

+view abstract PLoS biology, PMID: 31794573 Dec 2019

Cruz C, Houseley J Epigenetics

Over the past decade a plethora of noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) have been identified, initiating an explosion in RNA research. Although RNA sequencing methods provide unsurpassed insights into ncRNA distribution and expression, detailed information on structure and processing are harder to extract from sequence data. In contrast, northern blotting methods provide uniquely detailed insights into complex RNA populations but are rarely employed outside specialist RNA research groups. Such techniques are generally considered difficult for nonspecialists, which is unfortunate as substantial technical advances in the past few decades have solved the major challenges. Here we present simple, reproducible and highly robust protocols for separating glyoxylated RNA on agarose gels and heat denatured RNA on polyacrylamide-urea gels using standard laboratory electrophoresis equipment. We also provide reliable transfer and hybridization protocols that do not require optimization for most applications. Together, these should allow any molecular biology lab to elucidate the structure and processing of ncRNAs of interest.

+view abstract Methods in molecular biology, PMID: 31768973 2020

Cruz C, Della Rosa M, Krueger C, Gao Q, Horkai D, King M, Field L, Houseley J Epigenetics, Bioinformatics

Transcription of protein coding genes is accompanied by recruitment of COMPASS to promoter-proximal chromatin, which methylates histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) to form H3K4me1, H3K4me2 and H3K4me3. Here, we determine the importance of COMPASS in maintaining gene expression across lifespan in budding yeast. We find that COMPASS mutations reduce replicative lifespan and cause expression defects in almost 500 genes. Although H3K4 methylation is reported to act primarily in gene repression, particularly in yeast, repressive functions are progressively lost with age while hundreds of genes become dependent on H3K4me3 for full expression. Basal and inducible expression of these genes is also impaired in young cells lacking COMPASS components Swd1 or Spp1. Gene induction during ageing is associated with increasing promoter H3K4me3, but H3K4me3 also accumulates in non-promoter regions and the ribosomal DNA. Our results provide clear evidence that H3K4me3 is required to maintain normal expression of many genes across organismal lifespan.

+view abstract eLife, PMID: 30274593 2018

Frenk S, Houseley J Epigenetics,

Ageing leads to dramatic changes in the physiology of many different tissues resulting in a spectrum of pathology. Nonetheless, many lines of evidence suggest that ageing is driven by highly conserved cell intrinsic processes, and a set of unifying hallmarks of ageing has been defined. Here, we survey reports of age-linked changes in basal gene expression across eukaryotes from yeast to human and identify six gene expression hallmarks of cellular ageing: downregulation of genes encoding mitochondrial proteins; downregulation of the protein synthesis machinery; dysregulation of immune system genes; reduced growth factor signalling; constitutive responses to stress and DNA damage; dysregulation of gene expression and mRNA processing. These encompass widely reported features of ageing such as increased senescence and inflammation, reduced electron transport chain activity and reduced ribosome synthesis, but also reveal a surprising lack of gene expression responses to known age-linked cellular stresses. We discuss how the existence of conserved transcriptomic hallmarks relates to genome-wide epigenetic differences underlying ageing clocks, and how the changing transcriptome results in proteomic alterations where data is available and to variations in cell physiology characteristic of ageing. Identification of gene expression events that occur during ageing across distant organisms should be informative as to conserved underlying mechanisms of ageing, and provide additional biomarkers to assess the effects of diet and other environmental factors on the rate of ageing.

+view abstract Biogerontology, PMID: 29492790 2018

Frenk S, Houseley J Epigenetics,

+view abstract Aging, PMID: 29074820 2017

Hull RM, Cruz C, Jack CV, Houseley J Epigenetics,

Copy number variation (CNV) is rife in eukaryotic genomes and has been implicated in many human disorders, particularly cancer, in which CNV promotes both tumorigenesis and chemotherapy resistance. CNVs are considered random mutations but often arise through replication defects; transcription can interfere with replication fork progression and stability, leading to increased mutation rates at highly transcribed loci. Here we investigate whether inducible promoters can stimulate CNV to yield reproducible, environment-specific genetic changes. We propose a general mechanism for environmentally-stimulated CNV and validate this mechanism for the emergence of copper resistance in budding yeast. By analysing a large cohort of individual cells, we directly demonstrate that CNV of the copper-resistance gene CUP1 is stimulated by environmental copper. CNV stimulation accelerates the formation of novel alleles conferring enhanced copper resistance, such that copper exposure actively drives adaptation to copper-rich environments. Furthermore, quantification of CNV in individual cells reveals remarkable allele selectivity in the rate at which specific environments stimulate CNV. We define the key mechanistic elements underlying this selectivity, demonstrating that CNV is regulated by both promoter activity and acetylation of histone H3 lysine 56 (H3K56ac) and that H3K56ac is required for CUP1 CNV and efficient copper adaptation. Stimulated CNV is not limited to high-copy CUP1 repeat arrays, as we find that H3K56ac also regulates CNV in 3 copy arrays of CUP1 or SFA1 genes. The impact of transcription on DNA damage is well understood, but our research reveals that this apparently problematic association forms a pathway by which mutations can be directed to particular loci in particular environments and furthermore that this mutagenic process can be regulated through histone acetylation. Stimulated CNV therefore represents an unanticipated and remarkably controllable pathway facilitating organismal adaptation to new environments.

+view abstract PLoS biology, PMID: 28654659 2017

Sayou C, Millán-Zambrano G, Santos-Rosa H, Petfalski E, Robson S, Houseley J, Kouzarides T, Tollervey D Epigenetics,

Histone methylation at H3K4 and H3K36 is commonly associated with genes actively transcribed by RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) and is catalyzed by yeast Set1 and Set2, respectively. Here we report that both methyltransferases can be UV-crosslinked to RNA in vivo. High-throughput sequencing of the bound RNAs revealed strong Set1 enrichment near the transcription start site, whereas Set2 was distributed along pre-mRNAs. A subset of transcripts showed notably high enrichment for Set1 or Set2 binding relative to RNAPII, suggesting functional post-transcriptional interactions. In particular, Set1 was strongly bound to the SET1 mRNA, Ty1 retrotransposons, and non-coding RNAs from the rDNA intergenic spacers, consistent with its previously reported silencing roles. Set1 lacking RRM2 showed reduced in vivo crosslinking to RNA and reduced chromatin occupancy. In addition, levels of H3K4 tri-methylation were decreased whereas di-methylation was increased. We conclude that RNA binding by Set1 contributes to both chromatin association and methyltransferase activity.

+view abstract Molecular and cellular biology, PMID: 28483910 2017

Stubbs TM, Bonder MJ, Stark AK, Krueger F, Bolland D, Butcher G, Chandra T, Clark SJ, Corcoran A, Eckersley-Maslin M, Field L, Frising UC, Gilbert C, Guedes J, Hernando-Herraez I, Houseley J, Kemp F, MacQueen A, Okkenhaug K, Rhoades M, Santbergen MJC, Stebegg M, von Meyenn F, Stegle O, Reik W Epigenetics, Bioinformatics

DNA methylation changes at a discrete set of sites in the human genome are predictive of chronological and biological age. However, it is not known whether these changes are causative or a consequence of an underlying ageing process. It has also not been shown whether this epigenetic clock is unique to humans or conserved in the more experimentally tractable mouse.

+view abstract Genome biology, PMID: 28399939 2017

Frenk S, Pizza G, Walker RV, Houseley J Epigenetics, Flow Cytometry

Animals, plants and fungi undergo an aging process with remarkable physiological and molecular similarities, suggesting that aging has long been a fact of life for eukaryotes and one to which our unicellular ancestors were subject. Key biochemical pathways that impact longevity evolved prior to multicellularity, and the interactions between these pathways and the aging process therefore emerged in ancient single-celled eukaryotes. Nevertheless, we do not fully understand how aging impacts the fitness of unicellular organisms, and whether such cells gain a benefit from modulating rather than simply suppressing the aging process. We hypothesized that age-related loss of fitness in single-celled eukaryotes may be counterbalanced, partly or wholly, by a transition from a specialist to a generalist life-history strategy that enhances adaptability to other environments. We tested this hypothesis in budding yeast using competition assays and found that while young cells are more successful in glucose, highly aged cells outcompete young cells on other carbon sources such as galactose. This occurs because aged yeast divide faster than young cells in galactose, reversing the normal association between age and fitness. The impact of aging on single-celled organisms is therefore complex and may be regulated in ways that anticipate changing nutrient availability. We propose that pathways connecting nutrient availability with aging arose in unicellular eukaryotes to capitalize on age-linked diversity in growth strategy and that individual cells in higher eukaryotes may similarly diversify during aging to the detriment of the organism as a whole.

+view abstract Aging cell, PMID: 28247585 2017

de la Rica L, Deniz Ö, Cheng KC, Todd CD, Cruz C, Houseley J, Branco MR Epigenetics,

Ten-eleven translocation (TET) enzymes oxidise DNA methylation as part of an active demethylation pathway. Despite extensive research into the role of TETs in genome regulation, little is known about their effect on transposable elements (TEs), which make up nearly half of the mouse and human genomes. Epigenetic mechanisms controlling TEs have the potential to affect their mobility and to drive the co-adoption of TEs for the benefit of the host.

+view abstract Genome biology, PMID: 27863519 2016

Jack CV, Cruz C, Hull RM, Keller MA, Ralser M, Houseley J Epigenetics,

Repeated regions are widespread in eukaryotic genomes, and key functional elements such as the ribosomal DNA tend to be formed of high copy repeated sequences organized in tandem arrays. In general, high copy repeats are remarkably stable, but a number of organisms display rapid ribosomal DNA amplification at specific times or under specific conditions. Here we demonstrate that target of rapamycin (TOR) signaling stimulates ribosomal DNA amplification in budding yeast, linking external nutrient availability to ribosomal DNA copy number. We show that ribosomal DNA amplification is regulated by three histone deacetylases: Sir2, Hst3, and Hst4. These enzymes control homologous recombination-dependent and nonhomologous recombination-dependent amplification pathways that act in concert to mediate rapid, directional ribosomal DNA copy number change. Amplification is completely repressed by rapamycin, an inhibitor of the nutrient-responsive TOR pathway; this effect is separable from growth rate and is mediated directly through Sir2, Hst3, and Hst4. Caloric restriction is known to up-regulate expression of nicotinamidase Pnc1, an enzyme that enhances Sir2, Hst3, and Hst4 activity. In contrast, normal glucose concentrations stretch the ribosome synthesis capacity of cells with low ribosomal DNA copy number, and we find that these cells show a previously unrecognized transcriptional response to caloric excess by reducing PNC1 expression. PNC1 down-regulation forms a key element in the control of ribosomal DNA amplification as overexpression of PNC1 substantially reduces ribosomal DNA amplification rate. Our results reveal how a signaling pathway can orchestrate specific genome changes and demonstrate that the copy number of repetitive DNA can be altered to suit environmental conditions.

+view abstract Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, PMID: 26195783 2015

Houseley J, Hill CS, Rugg-Gunn PJ Epigenetics,

The third annual meeting of the EpiGeneSys network brought together epigenetics and systems biologists to report on collaborative projects that apply quantitative approaches to understanding complex epigenetic processes. The figure shown represents one meeting highlight, which was the unexpected emergence of genotype versus epigenotype in control of cell state.

+view abstract BioEssays, 2015, PMID: 25776341 2015

Donà F, Houseley J Epigenetics,

Ribonuclease A (RNase A) is widely used in molecular biology research both for analytical assays and for nucleic acid preparation. The catalytic mechanism of RNase A is well understood and absolutely precludes activity on DNA; however anecdotal reports of DNA degradation by RNase A are not uncommon. Here we describe a mechanism by which RNase A treatment can lead to apparent DNA degradation. This results from the surprising finding that RNase A remains functional in a phenol:chloroform mixture, to our knowledge the only enzyme that survives this highly denaturing solvent environment. Although RNase A does not cleave the DNA backbone it is capable of binding to DNA, forming stable RNase A-DNA complexes that partition to the interphase or organic phase during phenol:chloroform purification. The unexpected survival of the RNase A DNA-binding activity in phenol means that these complexes are not dissolved and a substantial amount of RNase A-bound DNA is permanently removed from the aqueous phase and lost on phase separation. This effect will impact DNA recovery from multiple procedures and is likely to represent a source of sequence bias in genome-wide studies. Our results also indicate that the results of analytical studies performed using RNase A must be considered with care.

+view abstract PloS one, PMID: 25502562 2014

Frenk S, Oxley D, Houseley J Epigenetics, Mass Spectrometry

Nuclear RNA degradation pathways are highly conserved across eukaryotes and play important roles in RNA quality control. Key substrates for exosomal degradation include aberrant functional RNAs and cryptic unstable transcripts (CUTs). It has recently been reported that the nuclear exosome is inactivated during meiosis in budding yeast through degradation of the subunit Rrp6, leading to the stabilisation of a subset of meiotic unannotated transcripts (MUTs) of unknown function. We have analysed the activity of the nuclear exosome during meiosis by deletion of TRF4, which encodes a key component of the exosome targeting complex TRAMP. We find that TRAMP mutants produce high levels of CUTs during meiosis that are undetectable in wild-type cells, showing that the nuclear exosome remains functional for CUT degradation, and we further report that the meiotic exosome complex contains Rrp6. Indeed Rrp6 over-expression is insufficient to suppress MUT transcripts, showing that the reduced amount of Rrp6 in meiotic cells does not directly cause MUT accumulation. Lack of TRAMP activity stabilises ∼ 1600 CUTs in meiotic cells, which occupy 40% of the binding capacity of the nuclear cap binding complex (CBC). CBC mutants display defects in the formation of meiotic double strand breaks (DSBs), and we see similar defects in TRAMP mutants, suggesting that a key function of the nuclear exosome is to prevent saturation of the CBC complex by CUTs. Together, our results show that the nuclear exosome remains active in meiosis and has an important role in facilitating meiotic recombination.

+view abstract PloS one, PMID: 25210768 2014

C Cruz, J Houseley Epigenetics,

A plethora of non-protein coding RNAs are produced throughout eukaryotic genomes, many of which are transcribed antisense to protein-coding genes and could potentially instigate RNA interference (RNAi) responses. Here we have used a synthetic RNAi system to show that gene copy number is a key factor controlling RNAi for transcripts from endogenous loci, since transcripts from multi-copy loci form double stranded RNA more efficiently than transcripts from equivalently expressed single-copy loci. Selectivity towards transcripts from high-copy DNA is therefore an emergent property of a minimal RNAi system. The ability of RNAi to selectively degrade transcripts from high-copy loci would allow suppression of newly emerging transposable elements, but such a surveillance system requires transcription. We show that low-level genome-wide pervasive transcription is sufficient to instigate RNAi, and propose that pervasive transcription is part of a defense mechanism capable of directing a sequence-independent RNAi response against transposable elements amplifying within the genome. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01581.001.

+view abstract eLife, PMID: 24520161 2014

LJ Lambert, S Walker, J Feltham, HJ Lee, W Reik, J Houseley ,

During B cell activation, the DNA lesions that initiate somatic hypermutation and class switch recombination are introduced by activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID). AID is a highly mutagenic protein that is maintained in the cytoplasm at steady state, however AID is shuttled across the nuclear membrane and the protein transiently present in the nucleus appears sufficient for targeted alteration of immunoglobulin loci. AID has been implicated in epigenetic reprogramming in primordial germ cells and cell fusions and in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), however AID expression in non-B cells is very low. We hypothesised that epigenetic reprogramming would require a pathway that instigates prolonged nuclear residence of AID. Here we show that AID is completely re-localised to the nucleus during drug withdrawal following etoposide treatment, in the period in which double strand breaks (DSBs) are repaired. Re-localisation occurs 2-6 hours after etoposide treatment, and AID remains in the nucleus for 10 or more hours, during which time cells remain live and motile. Re-localisation is cell-cycle dependent and is only observed in G2. Analysis of DSB dynamics shows that AID is re-localised in response to etoposide treatment, however re-localisation occurs substantially after DSB formation and the levels of re-localisation do not correlate with γH2AX levels. We conclude that DSB formation initiates a slow-acting pathway which allows stable long-term nuclear localisation of AID, and that such a pathway may enable AID-induced DNA demethylation during epigenetic reprogramming.

+view abstract PloS one, PMID: 24324754 2013

Hage AE,Houseley J ,

Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) is a technique that resolves chromosome-sized DNA molecules in an agarose gel. As well as DNA mapping and karyotyping applications, PFGE techniques are well adapted to follow DNA rearrangements over time in a quantitative manner. Because of the very large sizes of the DNA molecules analyzed, DNA preparation, electrophoresis, and Southern blotting processes present unique challenges in PFGE experiments. In this chapter, we describe a robust PFGE protocol covering the preparation of intact Saccharomyces cerevisiae chromosomal DNA, specific running conditions for the resolution of small, medium- and large-sized chromosomes and their by-products, and basic Southern blotting and hybridization instructions for the analysis of these molecules.

+view abstract Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.), PMID: 23913294 2013

J Houseley ,

Unstable non-coding RNAs are produced from thousands of loci in all studied eukaryotes (and also prokaryotes), but remain of largely unknown function. The present review summarizes the mechanisms of eukaryotic non-coding RNA degradation and highlights recent findings regarding function. The focus is primarily on budding yeast where the bulk of this research has been performed, but includes results from higher eukaryotes where available.

+view abstract Biochemical Society transactions, PMID: 22817744 2012

J Houseley, D Tollervey ,

Major eukaryotic genomic elements, including the ribosomal DNA (rDNA), are composed of repeated sequences with well-defined copy numbers that must be maintained by regulated recombination. Although mechanisms that instigate rDNA recombination have been identified, none are directional and they therefore cannot explain precise repeat number control. Here, we show that yeast lacking histone chaperone Asf1 undergo reproducible rDNA repeat expansions. These expansions do not require the replication fork blocking protein Fob1 and are therefore independent of known rDNA expansion mechanisms. We propose the existence of a regulated rDNA repeat gain pathway that becomes constitutively active in asf1Δ mutants. Cells lacking ASF1 accumulate rDNA repeats with high fidelity in a processive manner across multiple cell divisions. The mechanism of repeat gain is dependent on highly repetitive sequence but, surprisingly, is independent of the homologous recombination proteins Rad52, Rad51 and Rad59. The expansion mechanism is compromised by mutations that decrease the processivity of DNA replication, which leads to progressive loss of rDNA repeats. Our data suggest that a novel mode of break-induced replication occurs in repetitive DNA that is dependent on high homology but does not require the canonical homologous recombination machinery.

+view abstract Nucleic acids research, PMID: 21768125 2011

J Houseley, D Tollervey Epigenetics,

Trans-splicing, the in vivo joining of two independently transcribed RNA molecules, is well characterized in lower eukaryotes, but was long thought absent from metazoans. However, recent bioinformatic analyses of EST sequences suggested widespread trans-splicing in mammals. These apparently spliced transcripts generally lacked canonical splice sites, leading us to question their authenticity. Particularly, the native ability of reverse transcriptase enzymes to template switch during transcription could produce apparently trans-spliced sequences.

+view abstract PloS one, PMID: 20805885 2010

J Houseley, D Tollervey Epigenetics,

From the earliest comparisons of RNA production with steady-state levels, it has been clear that cells transcribe more RNA than they accumulate, implying the existence of active RNA degradation systems. In general, RNA is degraded at the end of its useful life, which is long for a ribosomal RNA but very short for excised introns or spacer fragments, and is closely regulated for most mRNA species. RNA molecules with defects in processing, folding, or assembly with proteins are identified and rapidly degraded by the surveillance machinery. Because RNA degradation is ubiquitous in all cells, it is clear that it must be carefully controlled to accurately recognize target RNAs. How this is achieved is perhaps the most pressing question in the field.

+view abstract Cell, PMID: 19239894 2009

J Houseley, L Rubbi, M Grunstein, D Tollervey, M Vogelauer Epigenetics,

The extensively studied yeast GAL1-10 gene cluster is tightly regulated by environmental sugar availability. Unexpectedly, under repressive conditions the 3' region of the GAL10 coding sequence is trimethylated by Set1 on histone H3 K4, normally characteristic of 5' regions of actively transcribed genes. This reflects transcription of a long noncoding RNA (GAL10-ncRNA) that is reciprocal to GAL1 and GAL10 mRNAs and driven by the DNA-binding protein Reb1. Point mutations in predicted Reb1-binding sites abolished Reb1 binding and ncRNA synthesis. The GAL10-ncRNA is transcribed approximately once every 50 min and targeted for degradation by the TRAMP and exosome complexes, resulting in low steady-state levels (approximately one molecule per 14 cells). GAL10-ncRNA transcription recruits the methyltransferase Set2 and histone deacetylation activities in cis, leading to stable changes in chromatin structure. These chromatin modifications act principally through the Rpd3S complex to aid glucose repression of GAL1-10 at physiologically relevant sugar concentrations.

+view abstract Molecular cell, PMID: 19061643 2008

J Houseley, D Tollervey Epigenetics,

The TRAMP polyadenylation complexes have well-established functions in RNA surveillance, stimulating degradation by the 3' to 5' exonuclease activity of the exosome on a wide range of nuclear RNAs and RNA-protein complexes. Known targets include some of the non-protein coding RNA transcripts (ncRNAs), which are apparently widely transcribed from yeast and mammalian genomes. We will discuss potential mechanisms of TRAMP recruitment and exosome activation during RNA surveillance and degradation. Less well-understood observations link both the TRAMP and exosome complexes to chromatin structure and DNA repair, and we will speculate on the potential significance of these activities.

+view abstract Biochimica et biophysica acta, PMID: 18211833 2008

J Houseley, K Kotovic, A El Hage, D Tollervey Epigenetics,

Trf4 is the poly(A) polymerase component of TRAMP4, which stimulates nuclear RNA degradation by the exosome. We report that in Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains lacking Trf4, cryptic transcripts are detected from regions of repressed chromatin at telomeres and the rDNA intergenic spacer region (IGS1-R), and at CEN3. Degradation of the IGS1-R transcript was reduced in strains lacking TRAMP components, the core exosome protein Mtr3 or the nuclear-specific exosome component Rrp6. IGS1-R has potential binding sites for the RNA-binding proteins Nrd1/Nab3, and was stabilized by mutation of Nrd1. IGS1-R passes through the replication fork barrier, a region required for rDNA copy number control. Strains lacking Trf4 showed sporadic changes in rDNA copy number, whereas loss of both Trf4 and either the histone deacetylase Sir2 or the topoisomerase Top1 caused dramatic loss of rDNA repeats. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses showed that Trf4 is co-transcriptionally recruited to IGS1-R, consistent with a direct role in rDNA stability. Co-transcriptional RNA binding by Trf4 may link RNA and DNA metabolism and direct immediate IGS1-R degradation by the exosome following transcription termination.

+view abstract The EMBO journal, PMID: 18007593 2007

Vicente M,Monferrer L,Poulos MG,Houseley J,Monckton DG,O'dell KM,Swanson MS,Artero RD Epigenetics,

Drosophila Muscleblind (Mbl) proteins control terminal muscle and neural differentiation, but their molecular function has not been experimentally addressed. Such an analysis is relevant as the human Muscleblind-like homologs (MBNL1-3) are implicated in the pathogenesis of the inherited muscular developmental and degenerative disease myotonic dystrophy. The Drosophila muscleblind gene expresses four protein coding splice forms (mblA to mblD) that are differentially expressed during the Drosophila life cycle, and which vary markedly in their ability to rescue the embryonic lethal phenotype of muscleblind mutant flies. Analysis of muscleblind mutant embryos reveals misregulated alternative splicing of the transcripts encoding Z-band component alpha-Actinin, which can be replicated in human cells expressing a Drosophilaalpha-actinin minigene and epitope-tagged Muscleblind isoforms. MblC appreciably altered alpha-actinin splicing in this assay, whereas other isoforms had only a marginal or no effect, demonstrating functional specialization among Muscleblind proteins. To further analyze the molecular basis of these differences, we studied the subcellular localization of Muscleblind isoforms. Consistent with the splicing assay results, MblB and MblC were enriched in the nucleus while MblA was predominantly cytoplasmic. In myotonic dystrophy, transcripts bearing expanded non-coding CUG or CCUG repeats interfere with the function of human MBNL proteins. Co-expression of CUG repeat RNA with the alpha-actinin minigene altered splicing compared with that seen in muscleblind mutant embryos, indicating that CUG repeat expansion RNA also interferes with Drosophila muscleblind function. Moreover MblA, B, and C co-localize with CUG repeat RNA in nuclear foci in cell culture. Our observations indicate that Muscleblind isoforms perform different functions in vivo, that MblC controls muscleblind-dependent alternative splicing events, and establish the functional conservation between Muscleblind and MBNL proteins both over a physiological target (alpha-actinin) and a pathogenic one (CUG repeats).

+view abstract Differentiation; research in biological diversity, PMID: 17309604 2007

J Houseley, J LaCava, D Tollervey Epigenetics,

The exosome complex of 3'-->5' exonucleases is an important component of the RNA-processing machinery in eukaryotes. This complex functions in the accurate processing of nuclear RNA precursors and in the degradation of RNAs in both the nucleus and the cytoplasm. However, it has been unclear how different classes of substrate are distinguished from one another. Recent studies now provide insights into the regulation and structure of the exosome, and they reveal striking similarities between the process of RNA degradation in bacteria and eukaryotes.

+view abstract Nature reviews. Molecular cell biology, PMID: 16829983 2006

Houseley JM,Garcia-Casado Z,Pascual M,Paricio N,O'Dell KM,Monckton DG,Artero RD Epigenetics,

It has become increasingly evident that eukaryotic cells produce RNA molecules from coding genes with constitutions other than those of typically spliced mRNA transcripts. Here we describe new cDNAs from the Drosophila melanogaster muscleblind (mbl) locus that identify two such atypical RNA molecules: RNAs containing an incomplete exon 2 tandem repetition (mblE2E2') or having exons with a different order compared to the corresponding genomic DNA (mblE2E3'E2'; exon scrambling). The existence of exon duplications and rearrangements in the genomic locus that might explain such cDNAs was ruled out by genomic Southern blotting and in silico analysis of the Drosophila genome sequence. The incomplete exon 2 tandem repetition was confirmed by sequencing reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) products, rapid amplification of cDNA ends, and detection of a band consistent with cDNA sizes in total RNA northern blots. RT-PCRs with exon-specific primers downstream of exon 2 were unable to amplify products other than those expected from canonical mbl isoforms, thus indicating that no other exons were efficiently spliced downstream of exon 2. Moreover, mblE2E2' transcripts seem to be poorly polyadenylated, if at all, and behave aberrantly in a polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) mobility assay. Taken together, lack of polyadenylation, lack of downstream splicing events, small size of mblE2E2', and PAGE behavior all suggest that these noncanonical transcripts may be circular RNAs. The functional implications for these noncanonical transcripts are unclear. A developmental expression profile of mblE2E2' revealed an almost constant expression except during early embryogenesis and early adulthood. The protein putatively encoded is unlikely to be functional because an in-frame stop codon occurs almost immediately after the splice site. Such noncanonical transcripts have previously been observed in vertebrates, and these data provide the first experimental evidence for similar phenomena in invertebrates.

+view abstract The Journal of heredity, PMID: 16714427 0

Dez C,Houseley J,Tollervey D Epigenetics,

We previously hypothesized that HEAT-repeat (Huntington, elongation A subunit, TOR) ribosome synthesis factors function in ribosome export. We report that the HEAT-repeat protein Sda1p is a component of late 60S pre-ribosomes and is required for nuclear export of both ribosomal subunits. In strains carrying the ts-lethal sda1-2 mutation, pre-60S particles were rapidly degraded following transfer to 37 degrees C. Polyadenylated forms of the 27S pre-rRNA and the 25S rRNA were detected, suggesting the involvement of the Trf4p/Air/Mtr4p polyadenylation complex (TRAMP). The absence of Trf4p suppressed polyadenylation and stabilized the pre-rRNA and rRNA. The absence of the nuclear exosome component Rrp6p also conferred RNA stabilization, with some hyperadenylation. We conclude that the nuclear-restricted pre-ribosomes are polyadenylated by TRAMP and degraded by the exosome. In sda1-2 strains at 37 degrees C, pre-40S and pre-60S ribosomes initially accumulated in the nucleoplasm, but then strongly concentrated in a subnucleolar focus, together with exosome and TRAMP components. Localization of pre-ribosomes to this focus was lost in sda1-2 strains lacking Trf4p or Rrp6p. We designate this nucleolar focus the No-body and propose that it represents a site of pre-ribosome surveillance.

+view abstract The EMBO journal, PMID: 16541108 2006

J Houseley, D Tollervey Epigenetics,

Recent analyses have shown that the activity of the yeast nuclear exosome is stimulated by the Trf4p-Air1/2p-Mtr4p polyadenylation (TRAMP) complex. Here, we report that strains lacking the Rrp6p component of the nuclear exosome accumulate polyadenylated forms of many different ribosomal RNA precursors (pre-rRNAs). This polyadenylation is reduced in strains lacking either the poly(A) polymerase Trf4p or its close homologue Trf5p. In contrast, polyadenylation is enhanced by overexpression of Trf5p. Polyadenylation is also markedly increased in strains lacking the RNA helicase Mtr4p, indicating that it is required to couple poly(A) polymerase activity to degradation. Tandem affinity purification-tagged purified Trf5p showed polyadenylation activity in vitro, which was abolished by a double point mutation in the predicted catalytic site. Trf5p co-purified with Mtr4p and Air1p, indicating that it forms a complex, designated TRAMP5, that has functions that partially overlap with the TRAMP complex.

+view abstract EMBO reports, PMID: 16374505 2006

J LaCava, J Houseley, C Saveanu, E Petfalski, E Thompson, A Jacquier, D Tollervey Epigenetics,

The exosome complex of 3'-5' exonucleases participates in RNA maturation and quality control and can rapidly degrade RNA-protein complexes in vivo. However, the purified exosome showed weak in vitro activity, indicating that rapid RNA degradation requires activating cofactors. This work identifies a nuclear polyadenylation complex containing a known exosome cofactor, the RNA helicase Mtr4p; a poly(A) polymerase, Trf4p; and a zinc knuckle protein, Air2p. In vitro, the Trf4p/Air2p/Mtr4p polyadenylation complex (TRAMP) showed distributive RNA polyadenylation activity. The presence of the exosome suppressed poly(A) tail addition, while TRAMP stimulated exosome degradation through structured RNA substrates. In vivo analyses showed that TRAMP is required for polyadenylation and degradation of rRNA and snoRNA precursors that are characterized exosome substrates. Poly(A) tails stimulate RNA degradation in bacteria, suggesting that this is their ancestral function. We speculate that this function was maintained in eukaryotic nuclei, while cytoplasmic mRNA poly(A) tails acquired different roles in translation.

+view abstract Cell, PMID: 15935758 2005

Houseley JM,Wang Z,Brock GJ,Soloway J,Artero R,Perez-Alonso M,O'Dell KM,Monckton DG Epigenetics,

Myotonic dystrophy type 1 is an autosomal dominant disorder associated with the expansion of a CTG repeat in the 3' untranslated region (UTR) of the DMPK gene. Recent data suggest that pathogenesis is predominantly mediated by a gain of function of the mutant transcript. In patients, these expanded CUG repeat-containing transcripts are sequestered into ribonuclear foci that also contain the muscleblind-like proteins. To provide further insights into muscleblind function and the pathogenesis of myotonic dystrophy, we generated Drosophila incorporating CTG repeats in the 3'-UTR of a reporter gene. As in patients, expanded CUG repeats form discrete ribonuclear foci in Drosophila muscle cells that co-localize with muscleblind. Unexpectedly, however, foci are not observed in all cell types and muscleblind is neither necessary nor sufficient for their formation. The foci are dynamic transient structures with short half-lifes that do not co-localize with the proteasome, suggesting they are unlikely to contain mis-folded proteins. However, they do co-localize with non-A, the human orthologs of which are implicated in both RNA splicing and attachment of dsRNA to the nuclear matrix. Muscleblind is also revealed as having a previously unrecognized role in stabilizing CUG transcripts. Most interestingly, Drosophila expressing (CUG)162 repeats has no detectable pathological phenotype suggesting that in contrast to expanded polyglutamine-containing proteins, neither the expanded CUG repeat RNA nor the ribonuclear foci are directly toxic.

+view abstract Human molecular genetics, PMID: 15703191 2005