Peter Rugg-Gunn

Research Summary

We are interested in understanding how the epigenome is established during human development and stem cell differentiation, and how epigenetic information changes over the life course of a person.

To research these topics, we use different types of stem cell (primarily human pluripotent stem cells) in combination with a variety of molecular and genetic approaches to characterise and perturb their epigenomes. The stem cell models are sometimes complemented with the characterisation of mouse and human embryos at very early stages in their development.

This research is important because establishing our epigenomes correctly during development has long lasting consequences on our health, and we need to know more about how it happens and why it sometimes goes wrong. Our work also provides new avenues for improving the epigenetic stability of human pluripotent stem cells, and our abilitiy to drive their specialisation towards useful cell types, which are essential requirements to fulfill their promise in regenerative medicine. 

Latest Publications

Naive Pluripotent Stem Cells Exhibit Phenotypic Variability that Is Driven by Genetic Variation.
Ortmann D, Brown S, Czechanski A, Aydin S, Muraro D, Huang Y, Tomaz RA, Osnato A, Canu G, Wesley BT, Skelly DA, Stegle O, Choi T, Churchill GA, Baker CL, Rugg-Gunn PJ, Munger SC, Reinholdt LG, Vallier L

Variability among pluripotent stem cell (PSC) lines is a prevailing issue that hampers not only experimental reproducibility but also large-scale applications and personalized cell-based therapy. This variability could result from epigenetic and genetic factors that influence stem cell behavior. Naive culture conditions minimize epigenetic fluctuation, potentially overcoming differences in PSC line differentiation potential. Here we derived PSCs from distinct mouse strains under naive conditions and show that lines from distinct genetic backgrounds have divergent differentiation capacity, confirming a major role for genetics in PSC phenotypic variability. This is explained in part through inconsistent activity of extra-cellular signaling, including the Wnt pathway, which is modulated by specific genetic variants. Overall, this study shows that genetic background plays a dominant role in driving phenotypic variability of PSCs.

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Cell stem cell, 1, 1, 11 Aug 2020

PMID: 32795399

Cell-Surface Proteomics Identifies Differences in Signaling and Adhesion Protein Expression between Naive and Primed Human Pluripotent Stem Cells.
Wojdyla K, Collier AJ, Fabian C, Nisi PS, Biggins L, Oxley D, Rugg-Gunn PJ

Naive and primed human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC) provide valuable models to study cellular and molecular developmental processes. The lack of detailed information about cell-surface protein expression in these two pluripotent cell types prevents an understanding of how the cells communicate and interact with their microenvironments. Here, we used plasma membrane profiling to directly measure cell-surface protein expression in naive and primed hPSC. This unbiased approach quantified over 1,700 plasma membrane proteins, including those involved in cell adhesion, signaling, and cell interactions. Notably, multiple cytokine receptors upstream of JAK-STAT signaling were more abundant in naive hPSC. In addition, functional experiments showed that FOLR1 and SUSD2 proteins are highly expressed at the cell surface in naive hPSC but are not required to establish human naive pluripotency. This study provides a comprehensive stem cell proteomic resource that uncovers differences in signaling pathway activity and has identified new markers to define human pluripotent states.

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Stem cell reports, 1, 1, 10 Apr 2020

DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2020.03.017

PMID: 32302559

Multi-omics profiling of mouse gastrulation at single-cell resolution.
Argelaguet R, Clark SJ, Mohammed H, Stapel LC, Krueger C, Kapourani CA, Imaz-Rosshandler I, Lohoff T, Xiang Y, Hanna CW, Smallwood S, Ibarra-Soria X, Buettner F, Sanguinetti G, Xie W, Krueger F, Göttgens B, Rugg-Gunn PJ, Kelsey G, Dean W, Nichols J, Stegle O, Marioni JC, Reik W

Formation of the three primary germ layers during gastrulation is an essential step in the establishment of the vertebrate body plan and is associated with major transcriptional changes. Global epigenetic reprogramming accompanies these changes, but the role of the epigenome in regulating early cell-fate choice remains unresolved, and the coordination between different molecular layers is unclear. Here we describe a single-cell multi-omics map of chromatin accessibility, DNA methylation and RNA expression during the onset of gastrulation in mouse embryos. The initial exit from pluripotency coincides with the establishment of a global repressive epigenetic landscape, followed by the emergence of lineage-specific epigenetic patterns during gastrulation. Notably, cells committed to mesoderm and endoderm undergo widespread coordinated epigenetic rearrangements at enhancer marks, driven by ten-eleven translocation (TET)-mediated demethylation and a concomitant increase of accessibility. By contrast, the methylation and accessibility landscape of ectodermal cells is already established in the early epiblast. Hence, regulatory elements associated with each germ layer are either epigenetically primed or remodelled before cell-fate decisions, providing the molecular framework for a hierarchical emergence of the primary germ layers.

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Nature, 576, 7787, 2019

DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1825-8

PMID: 31827285