Studies of mammalian development have advanced our understanding of the genetic, epigenetic, and cellular processes that orchestrate embryogenesis and have uncovered new insights into the unique aspects of human embryogenesis. Recent studies have now produced the first epigenetic maps of early human embryogenesis, stimulating new ideas about epigenetic reprogramming, cell fate control, and the potential mechanisms underpinning developmental plasticity in human embryos. In this review, we discuss these new insights into the epigenetic regulation of early human development and the importance of these processes for safeguarding development. We also highlight unanswered questions and key challenges that remain to be addressed.
In the adult mouse brain, the subventricular zone (SVZ) underlying the lateral ventricles harbours a population of quiescent neural stem cells, which can be activated (aNSCs) to initiate proliferation and generate a neurogenic lineage consisting of transit amplifying progenitors (TAPs), neuroblasts (NBs) and newborn neurons. This process is markedly reduced during aging. Recent studies suggest that the aged SVZ niche decreases the pool of proliferating neural/stem progenitor cells (NSPCs), and hence adult neurogenesis, by causing transcriptomic changes that promote NSC quiescence. The transcription factors that mediate these changes, however, remain unclear. We previously found that the homeobox gene Dbx2 is upregulated in NSPCs of the aged mouse SVZ and can inhibit the growth of NSPC cultures. Here, we further investigate its role as a candidate transcriptional regulator of neurogenic decline. We show that Dbx2 expression is downregulated by Epidermal Growth Factor receptor signaling, which promotes NSPC proliferation and decreases in the aged SVZ. By means of transgenic NSPC lines overexpressing Dbx2, we also show that this gene inhibits NSPC proliferation by hindering the G2/M transition. Furthermore, we exploit RNA sequencing of transgenic NSPCs to elucidate the transcriptomic networks modulated by Dbx2. Among the top hits, we report the downregulation of the molecular pathways implicated in cell cycle progression. Accordingly, we find that Dbx2 function is negatively correlated with the transcriptional signatures of proliferative NSPCs (aNSCs, TAPs and early NBs). These results point to Dbx2 as a transcription factor relaying the anti-neurogenic input of the aged niche to the NSPC transcriptome.
Recent years have seen exciting progress across human embryo research, including new methods for culturing embryos, transcriptional profiling of embryogenesis and gastrulation, mapping lineage trajectories, and experimenting on stem cell-based embryo models. These advances are beginning to define the dynamical principles of development across stages, tissues and organs, enabling a better understanding of human development before birth in health and disease, and potentially leading to improved treatments for infertility and developmental disorders. However, there are still significant roadblocks en route to this goal. Here, we highlight technical challenges to studying early human development and propose ways and means to overcome some of these constraints.
X chromosome inactivation (XCI) is an essential process, yet it initiates with remarkable diversity in various mammalian species. XIST, the main trigger of XCI, is controlled in the mouse by an interplay of lncRNA genes (LRGs), some of which evolved concomitantly to XIST and have orthologues across all placental mammals. Here, we addressed the functional conservation of human orthologues of two such LRGs, FTX and JPX. By combining analysis of single-cell RNA-seq data from early human embryogenesis with various functional assays in matched human and mouse pluripotent stem- or differentiated post-XCI cells, we demonstrate major functional differences for these orthologues between species, independently of primary sequence conservation. While the function of FTX is not conserved in humans, JPX stands as a major regulator of XIST expression in both species. However, we show that different entities of JPX control the production of XIST at various steps depending on the species. Altogether, our study highlights the functional versatility of LRGs across evolution, and reveals that functional conservation of orthologous LRGs may involve diversified mechanisms of action. These findings represent a striking example of how the evolvability of LRGs can provide adaptative flexibility to constrained gene regulatory networks.
Gene duplication events can drive evolution by providing genetic material for new gene functions, and create opportunities for diverse developmental strategies to emerge between species. To study the contribution of duplicated genes to human early development, we examined the evolution and function of NANOGP1, a tandem duplicate of the transcription factor NANOG. We found that NANOGP1 and NANOG have overlapping but distinct expression profiles, with high NANOGP1 expression restricted to early epiblast cells and naïve-state pluripotent stem cells. Sequence analysis and epitope-tagging revealed that NANOGP1 is protein-coding with an intact homeobox domain. The duplication that created NANOGP1 occurred earlier in primate evolution than previously thought and has been retained only in great apes, whereas Old World monkeys have disabled the gene in different ways including homeodomain point mutations. NANOGP1 is a strong inducer of naïve pluripotency; however, unlike NANOG, it is not required to maintain the undifferentiated status of human naïve pluripotent cells. By retaining expression, sequence and partial functional conservation with its ancestral copy, NANOGP1 exemplifies how gene duplication and subfunctionalisation can contribute to transcription factor activity in human pluripotency and development.
Heterochromatin maintains genome integrity and function, and is organised into distinct nuclear domains. Some of these domains are proposed to form by phase separation through the accumulation of HP1ɑ. Mouse heterochromatin contains noncoding major satellite repeats (MSR), which are highly transcribed in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Here, we report that MSR transcripts can drive the formation of HP1ɑ droplets in vitro, and modulate heterochromatin into dynamic condensates in ESCs, contributing to the formation of large nuclear domains that are characteristic of pluripotent cells. Depleting MSR transcripts causes heterochromatin to transition into a more compact and static state. Unexpectedly, changing heterochromatin's biophysical properties has severe consequences for ESCs, including chromosome instability and mitotic defects. These findings uncover an essential role for MSR transcripts in modulating the organisation and properties of heterochromatin to preserve genome stability. They also provide insights into the processes that could regulate phase separation and the functional consequences of disrupting the properties of heterochromatin condensates.
Human naive pluripotent stem cells have unrestricted lineage potential. Underpinning this property, naive cells are thought to lack chromatin-based lineage barriers. However, this assumption has not been tested. Here we define the chromatin-associated proteome, histone post-translational modifications and transcriptome of human naive and primed pluripotent stem cells. Our integrated analysis reveals differences in the relative abundance and activities of distinct chromatin modules. We identify a strong enrichment of polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2)-associated H3K27me3 in the chromatin of naive pluripotent stem cells and H3K27me3 enrichment at promoters of lineage-determining genes, including trophoblast regulators. PRC2 activity acts as a chromatin barrier restricting the differentiation of naive cells towards the trophoblast lineage, whereas inhibition of PRC2 promotes trophoblast-fate induction and cavity formation in human blastoids. Together, our results establish that human naive pluripotent stem cells are not epigenetically unrestricted, but instead possess chromatin mechanisms that oppose the induction of alternative cell fates.
In primates, the amnion emerges through cavitation of the epiblast during implantation, whereas in other species it does so later at gastrulation by the folding of the ectoderm. How the mechanisms of amniogenesis diversified during evolution remains unknown. Unexpectedly, single-cell analysis of primate embryos uncovered two transcriptionally and temporally distinct amniogenesis waves. To study this, we employed the naive-to-primed transition of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) to model peri-implantation epiblast development. Partially primed hPSCs transiently gained the ability to differentiate into cavitating epithelium that transcriptionally and morphologically matched the early amnion, whereas fully primed hPSCs produced cells resembling the late amnion instead, thus recapitulating the two independent differentiation waves. The early wave follows a trophectoderm-like pathway and encompasses cavitation, whereas the late wave resembles an ectoderm-like route during gastrulation. The discovery of two independent waves explains how amniogenesis through cavitation could emerge during evolution via duplication of the pre-existing trophectoderm program.
Uncovering the mechanisms that establish naïve pluripotency in humans is crucial for the future applications of pluripotent stem cells including the production of human blastoids. However, the regulatory pathways that control the establishment of naïve pluripotency by reprogramming are largely unknown. Here, we use genome-wide screening to identify essential regulators as well as major impediments of human primed to naïve pluripotent stem cell reprogramming. We discover that factors essential for cell state change do not typically undergo changes at the level of gene expression but rather are repurposed with new functions. Mechanistically, we establish that the variant Polycomb complex PRC1.3 and PRDM14 jointly repress developmental and gene regulatory factors to ensure naïve cell reprogramming. In addition, small-molecule inhibitors of reprogramming impediments improve naïve cell reprogramming beyond current methods. Collectively, this work defines the principles controlling the establishment of human naïve pluripotency and also provides new insights into mechanisms that destabilize and reconfigure cell identity during cell state transitions.
Cell-surface proteins provide excellent biomarkers to identify specific cell types and resolve heterogeneous cell populations. The analysis of cell-surface proteins by flow cytometry produces robust and quantitative information with single-cell resolution, and allows live target cells to be purified and characterized or re-cultured. Studies using antibody screens, proteomics, and candidate analysis have identified a comprehensive set of proteins that are expressed on the surface of naïve and primed human pluripotent stem cells. These findings have led to the development of suitable protein markers and antibodies to accurately distinguish between these two cell types. Here, a detailed protocol is provided that uses multi-color flow cytometry to analyze cell-surface protein expression in naïve and primed human pluripotent stem cells. This method enables the unambiguous identification of pluripotent cell types and the opportunity to sort target cells including during cell state transitions. The protocol can be combined to additionally investigate the expression of reporter genes and other informative features, such as DNA content.
Human pluripotent stem cells exist in naïve and primed states that recapitulate the distinct molecular and cellular properties of pre- and post-implantation epiblast cells, respectively. Naïve pluripotent stem cells can be captured directly from blastocysts but, more commonly, the cells are reprogrammed from primed cells in a process called "resetting". Several methods to achieve resetting have been described. Chemical resetting of primed cells to a naïve pluripotent state is one such method and has come to the forefront as a simple, efficient, and transgene-free method to induce naïve pluripotency. The process involves the transient application of a histone deacetylase inhibitor to initiate resetting, followed by the emergence of nascent naïve pluripotent stem cells in supportive conditions, and finally the stabilization and expansion of naïve pluripotent stem cell cultures. Here, a detailed protocol is provided for chemical resetting starting from plating primed cells until a stable culture of naïve pluripotent stem cells is established.
The signalling pathways that maintain primed human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have been well characterised, revealing a critical role for TGFβ/Activin/Nodal signalling. In contrast, the signalling requirements of naive human pluripotency have not been fully established. Here, we demonstrate that TGFβ signalling is required to maintain naive hPSCs. The downstream effector proteins - SMAD2/3 - bind common sites in naive and primed hPSCs, including shared pluripotency genes. In naive hPSCs, SMAD2/3 additionally bind to active regulatory regions near to naive pluripotency genes. Inhibiting TGFβ signalling in naive hPSCs causes the downregulation of SMAD2/3-target genes and pluripotency exit. Single-cell analyses reveal that naive and primed hPSCs follow different transcriptional trajectories after inhibition of TGFβ signalling. Primed hPSCs differentiate into neuroectoderm cells, whereas naive hPSCs transition into trophectoderm. These results establish that there is a continuum for TGFβ pathway function in human pluripotency spanning a developmental window from naive to primed states.
The transition from naive to primed pluripotency is accompanied by an extensive reorganisation of transcriptional and epigenetic programmes. However, the role of transcriptional enhancers and three-dimensional chromatin organisation in coordinating these developmental programmes remains incompletely understood. Here, we generate a high-resolution atlas of gene regulatory interactions, chromatin profiles and transcription factor occupancy in naive and primed human pluripotent stem cells, and develop a network-graph approach to examine the atlas at multiple spatial scales. We uncover highly connected promoter hubs that change substantially in interaction frequency and in transcriptional co-regulation between pluripotent states. Small hubs frequently merge to form larger networks in primed cells, often linked by newly-formed Polycomb-associated interactions. We identify widespread state-specific differences in enhancer activity and interactivity that correspond with an extensive reconfiguration of OCT4, SOX2 and NANOG binding and target gene expression. These findings provide multilayered insights into the chromatin-based gene regulatory control of human pluripotent states.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recent advances in human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) research have uncovered different subpopulations within stem cell cultures and have captured a range of pluripotent states that hold distinct molecular and functional properties. At the two ends of the pluripotency spectrum are naïve and primed hPSC, whereby naïve hPSC grown in stringent conditions recapitulate features of the preimplantation human embryo, and the conventionally grown primed hPSC align closer to the early postimplantation embryo. Investigating these cell types will help to define the mechanisms that control early development and should provide new insights into stem cell properties such as cell identity, differentiation and reprogramming. Monitoring cell surface marker expression provides a valuable approach to resolve complex cell populations, to directly compare between cell types, and to isolate viable cells for functional experiments. This review discusses the discovery and applications of cell surface markers to study human pluripotent cell types with a particular focus on the transitions between naïve and primed states. Highlighted areas for future study include the potential functions for the identified cell surface proteins in pluripotency, the production of new high-quality monoclonal antibodies to naïve-specific protein epitopes and the use of cell surface markers to characterise subpopulations within pluripotent states.
In the original version of the Article, the gene symbol for tissue factor pathway inhibitor was inadvertently given as 'TFP1' instead of 'TFPI'. This has now been corrected in both the PDF and HTML versions of the Article.
Pluripotency is accompanied by the erasure of parental epigenetic memory, with naïve pluripotent cells exhibiting global DNA hypomethylation both in vitro and in vivo. Exit from pluripotency and priming for differentiation into somatic lineages is associated with genome-wide de novo DNA methylation. We show that during this phase, co-expression of enzymes required for DNA methylation turnover, DNMT3s and TETs, promotes cell-to-cell variability in this epigenetic mark. Using a combination of single-cell sequencing and quantitative biophysical modeling, we show that this variability is associated with coherent, genome-scale oscillations in DNA methylation with an amplitude dependent on CpG density. Analysis of parallel single-cell transcriptional and epigenetic profiling provides evidence for oscillatory dynamics both in vitro and in vivo. These observations provide insights into the emergence of epigenetic heterogeneity during early embryo development, indicating that dynamic changes in DNA methylation might influence early cell fate decisions.
Long-range chromosomal interactions bring distal regulatory elements and promoters together to regulate gene expression in biological processes. By performing promoter capture Hi-C (PCHi-C) on human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs), we show that such promoter interactions are a key mechanism by which enhancers contact their target genes after hESC-CM differentiation from hESCs. We also show that the promoter interactome of hESC-CMs is associated with expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) in cardiac left ventricular tissue; captures the dynamic process of genome reorganisation after hESC-CM differentiation; overlaps genome-wide association study (GWAS) regions associated with heart rate; and identifies new candidate genes in such regions. These findings indicate that regulatory elements in hESC-CMs identified by our approach control gene expression involved in ventricular conduction and rhythm of the heart. The study of promoter interactions in other hESC-derived cell types may be of utility in functional investigation of GWAS-associated regions.
Recent reports that human pluripotent stem cells can be captured in a spectrum of states with variable properties has prompted a re-evaluation of how pluripotency is acquired and stabilised. The latest additions to the stem cell hierarchy open up opportunities for understanding human development, reprogramming, and cell state transitions more generally. Many of the new cell lines have been collectively termed 'naïve' human pluripotent stem cells to distinguish them from the conventional 'primed' cells. Here, several transcriptional and epigenetic hallmarks of human pluripotent states in the recently described cell lines are reviewed and evaluated. Methods to derive and identify human naïve pluripotent stem cells are also discussed, with a focus on the uses and future developments of state-specific reporter cell lines and cell-surface proteins. Finally, opportunities and uncertainties in naïve stem cell biology are highlighted, and the current limitations of human naïve pluripotent stem cells considered, particularly in the context of differentiation.
Transcriptional enhancers, including super-enhancers (SEs), form physical interactions with promoters to regulate cell-type-specific gene expression. SEs are characterized by high transcription factor occupancy and large domains of active chromatin, and they are commonly assigned to target promoters using computational predictions. How promoter-SE interactions change upon cell state transitions, and whether transcription factors maintain SE interactions, have not been reported. Here, we used promoter-capture Hi-C to identify promoters that interact with SEs in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs). We found that SEs form complex, spatial networks in which individual SEs contact multiple promoters, and a rewiring of promoter-SE interactions occurs between pluripotent states. We also show that long-range promoter-SE interactions are more prevalent in ESCs than in epiblast stem cells (EpiSCs) or Nanog-deficient ESCs. We conclude that SEs form cell-type-specific interaction networks that are partly dependent on core transcription factors, thereby providing insights into the gene regulatory organization of pluripotent cells.
Adult neurogenesis declines with aging due to the depletion and functional impairment of neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs). An improved understanding of the underlying mechanisms that drive age-associated neurogenic deficiency could lead to the development of strategies to alleviate cognitive impairment and facilitate neuroregeneration. An essential step towards this aim is to investigate the molecular changes that occur in NSPC aging on a genomewide scale. In this study, we compare the transcriptional, histone methylation and DNA methylation signatures of NSPCs derived from the subventricular zone (SVZ) of young adult (3 months old) and aged (18 months old) mice. Surprisingly, the transcriptional and epigenomic profiles of SVZ-derived NSPCs are largely unchanged in aged cells. Despite the global similarities, we detect robust age-dependent changes at several hundred genes and regulatory elements, thereby identifying putative regulators of neurogenic decline. Within this list, the homeobox gene Dbx2 is upregulated in vitro and in vivo, and its promoter region has altered histone and DNA methylation levels, in aged NSPCs. Using functional in vitro assays, we show that elevated Dbx2 expression in young adult NSPCs promotes age-related phenotypes, including the reduced proliferation of NSPC cultures and the altered transcript levels of age-associated regulators of NSPC proliferation and differentiation. Depleting Dbx2 in aged NSPCs caused the reverse gene expression changes. Taken together, these results provide new insights into the molecular programmes that are affected during mouse NSPC aging, and uncover a new functional role for Dbx2 in promoting age-related neurogenic decline.
Pluripotent stem cells may acquire genetic and epigenetic variants during culture following their derivation. At a conference organized by the International Stem Cell Initiative, and held at The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine, October 2016, participants discussed how the appearance of such variants can be monitored and minimized and, crucially, how their significance for the safety of therapeutic applications of these cells can be assessed. A strong recommendation from the meeting was that an international advisory group should be set up to review the genetic and epigenetic changes observed in human pluripotent stem cell lines and establish a framework for evaluating the risks that they may pose for clinical use.
During vertebrate neural development, positional information is largely specified by extracellular morphogens. Their distribution, however, is very dynamic due to the multiple roles played by the same signals in the developing and adult neural tissue. This suggests that neural progenitors are able to modify their competence to respond to morphogen signalling and autonomously maintain positional identities after their initial specification. In this work, we take advantage of in vitro culture systems of mouse neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs) to show that NSPCs isolated from rostral or caudal regions of the mouse neural tube are differentially responsive to retinoic acid (RA), a pivotal morphogen for the specification of posterior neural fates. Hoxb genes are among the best known RA direct targets in the neural tissue, yet we found that RA could promote their transcription only in caudal but not in rostral NSPCs. Correlating with these effects, key RA-responsive regulatory regions in the Hoxb cluster displayed opposite enrichment of activating or repressing histone marks in rostral and caudal NSPCs. Finally, RA was able to strengthen Hoxb chromatin activation in caudal NSPCs, but was ineffective on the repressed Hoxb chromatin of rostral NSPCs. These results suggest that the response of NSPCs to morphogen signalling across the rostrocaudal axis of the neural tube may be gated by the epigenetic configuration of target patterning genes, allowing long-term maintenance of intrinsic positional values in spite of continuously changing extrinsic signals.
Human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) exist in naive and primed states and provide important models to investigate the earliest stages of human development. Naive cells can be obtained through primed-to-naive resetting, but there are no reliable methods to prospectively isolate unmodified naive cells during this process. Here we report comprehensive profiling of cell surface proteins by flow cytometry in naive and primed human PSCs. Several naive-specific, but not primed-specific, proteins were also expressed by pluripotent cells in the human preimplantation embryo. The upregulation of naive-specific cell surface proteins during primed-to-naive resetting enabled the isolation and characterization of live naive cells and intermediate cell populations. This analysis revealed distinct transcriptional and X chromosome inactivation changes associated with the early and late stages of naive cell formation. Thus, identification of state-specific proteins provides a robust set of molecular markers to define the human PSC state and allows new insights into the molecular events leading to naive cell resetting.
Long-range cis-regulatory elements such as enhancers coordinate cell-specific transcriptional programmes by engaging in DNA looping interactions with target promoters. Deciphering the interplay between the promoter connectivity and activity of cis-regulatory elements during lineage commitment is crucial for understanding developmental transcriptional control. Here, we use Promoter Capture Hi-C to generate a high-resolution atlas of chromosomal interactions involving ~22,000 gene promoters in human pluripotent and lineage-committed cells, identifying putative target genes for known and predicted enhancer elements. We reveal extensive dynamics of cis-regulatory contacts upon lineage commitment, including the acquisition and loss of promoter interactions. This spatial rewiring occurs preferentially with predicted changes in the activity of cis-regulatory elements, and is associated with changes in target gene expression. Our results provide a global and integrated view of promoter interactome dynamics during lineage commitment of human pluripotent cells.
Epiblast stem cells (EpiSCs), which are pluripotent cells isolated from early post-implantation mouse embryos (E5.5), show both similarities and differences compared to mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), isolated earlier from the inner cell mass (ICM) of the E3.5 embryo. Previously, we have observed that while chromatin is very dispersed in E3.5 ICM, compact chromatin domains and chromocentres appear in E5.5 epiblasts after embryo implantation. Given that the observed chromatin re-organization in E5.5 epiblasts coincides with an increase in DNA methylation, in this study, we aimed to examine the role of DNA methylation in chromatin re-organization during the in vitro conversion of ESCs to EpiSCs. The requirement for DNA methylation was determined by converting both wild-type and DNA methylation-deficient ESCs to EpiSCs, followed by structural analysis with electron spectroscopic imaging (ESI). We show that the chromatin re-organization which occurs in vivo can be re-capitulated in vitro during the ESC to EpiSC conversion. Indeed, after 7 days in EpiSC media, compact chromatin domains begin to appear throughout the nuclear volume, creating a chromatin organization similar to E5 epiblasts and embryo-derived EpiSCs. Our data demonstrate that DNA methylation is dispensable for this global chromatin re-organization but required for the compaction of pericentromeric chromatin into chromocentres.
This protocol describes the derivation and culture of epiblast stem cells (EpiSCs) from early postimplantation epiblasts. EpiSCs can be maintained in an undifferentiated state and retain the ability to generate tissues from all three germ layers in vitro and to form teratomas in vivo. However, they seem unable to form chimeras. Whether this is due to differences in developmental status or a cellular incompatibility (e.g., cell adhesion) between EpiSCs and the host inner cell mass (ICM) is currently unclear. Other differences between mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells and EpiSCs also exist, including gene expression profiles and different growth factor requirements for self-renewal. Thus, EpiSCs provide an important in vitro model for studying the establishment and maintenance of pluripotency in postimplantation epiblast tissues.
Whereas embryonic stem (ES) cells are isolated from the embryonic lineage of the blastocyst, other stable stem cell lines can be derived from the extraembryonic tissues of the early mouse embryo. Trophoblast stem (TS) cells are derived from trophectoderm and early postimplantation trophoblast, and extraembryonic endoderm stem (XEN) cells are derived from primitive endoderm. The derivation of XEN cell lines from 3.5-dpc mouse blastocysts, described here, is similar to the derivation of TS cell lines. TS and XEN cells can self-renew in vitro and differentiate in vitro and in chimeras (in vivo) in a lineage-appropriate manner, showing the developmental potential of their origin, thus providing important models to study the mouse extraembryonic lineages.
Sex chromosome dosage compensation is essential in most metazoans, but the developmental timing and underlying mechanisms vary significantly, even among placental mammals. Here we identify human-specific mechanisms regulating X chromosome activity in early embryonic development. Single-cell RNA sequencing and imaging revealed co-activation and accumulation of the long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) XACT and XIST on active X chromosomes in both early human pre-implantation embryos and naive human embryonic stem cells. In these contexts, the XIST RNA adopts an unusual, highly dispersed organization, which may explain why it does not trigger X chromosome inactivation at this stage. Functional studies in transgenic mouse cells show that XACT influences XIST accumulation in cis. Our findings therefore suggest a mechanism involving antagonistic activity of XIST and XACT in controlling X chromosome activity in early human embryos, and they highlight the contribution of rapidly evolving lncRNAs to species-specific developmental mechanisms.
Through the histone methyltransferase EZH2, the Polycomb complex PRC2 mediates H3K27me3 and is associated with transcriptional repression. PRC2 regulates cell-fate decisions in model organisms; however, its role in regulating cell differentiation during human embryogenesis is unknown. Here, we report the characterization of EZH2-deficient human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). H3K27me3 was lost upon EZH2 deletion, identifying an essential requirement for EZH2 in methylating H3K27 in hESCs, in contrast to its non-essential role in mouse ESCs. Developmental regulators were derepressed in EZH2-deficient hESCs, and single-cell analysis revealed an unexpected acquisition of lineage-restricted transcriptional programs. EZH2-deficient hESCs show strongly reduced self-renewal and proliferation, thereby identifying a more severe phenotype compared to mouse ESCs. EZH2-deficient hESCs can initiate differentiation toward developmental lineages; however, they cannot fully differentiate into mature specialized tissues. Thus, EZH2 is required for stable ESC self-renewal, regulation of transcriptional programs, and for late-stage differentiation in this model of early human development.
Pluripotent cells are characterized by a globally open and accessible chromatin organization that is thought to contribute to cellular plasticity and developmental decision-making. We recently identified the pluripotency factor Nanog as a key regulator of this form of chromatin architecture in mouse embryonic stem cells. In particular, we demonstrated that the transcription factors Nanog and Sall1 co-dependently mediate the epigenetic state of pericentromeric heterochromatin to reinforce a more open and accessible organization in pluripotent cells. Here, we summarize our main findings and place the work into a broader context. We explore how heterochromatin domains could be targets of transcriptional networks in pluripotent cells and are coordinated with cell state. We propose this integration may be to balance the requirement for a dynamic and plastic chromatin organization in pluripotent cells, together with priming for a more restrictive nuclear compartmentalization that is triggered rapidly upon lineage commitment.
Primordial germ cell (PGC) development is characterized by global epigenetic remodeling, which resets genomic potential and establishes an epigenetic ground state. Here we recapitulate PGC specification in vitro from naive embryonic stem cells and characterize the early events of epigenetic reprogramming during the formation of the human and mouse germline. Following rapid de novo DNA methylation during priming to epiblast-like cells, methylation is globally erased in PGC-like cells. Repressive chromatin marks (H3K9me2/3) and transposable elements are enriched at demethylation-resistant regions, while active chromatin marks (H3K4me3 or H3K27ac) are more prominent at regions that demethylate faster. The dynamics of specification and epigenetic reprogramming show species-specific differences, in particular markedly slower reprogramming kinetics in the human germline. Differences in developmental kinetics may be explained by differential regulation of epigenetic modifiers. Our work establishes a robust and faithful experimental system of the early events of epigenetic reprogramming and regulation in the germline.
An open and decondensed chromatin organization is a defining property of pluripotency. Several epigenetic regulators have been implicated in maintaining an open chromatin organization, but how these processes are connected to the pluripotency network is unknown. Here, we identified a new role for the transcription factor NANOG as a key regulator connecting the pluripotency network with constitutive heterochromatin organization in mouse embryonic stem cells. Deletion of Nanog leads to chromatin compaction and the remodeling of heterochromatin domains. Forced expression of NANOG in epiblast stem cells is sufficient to decompact chromatin. NANOG associates with satellite repeats within heterochromatin domains, contributing to an architecture characterized by highly dispersed chromatin fibers, low levels of H3K9me3, and high major satellite transcription, and the strong transactivation domain of NANOG is required for this organization. The heterochromatin-associated protein SALL1 is a direct cofactor for NANOG, and loss of Sall1 recapitulates the Nanog-null phenotype, but the loss of Sall1 can be circumvented through direct recruitment of the NANOG transactivation domain to major satellites. These results establish a direct connection between the pluripotency network and chromatin organization and emphasize that maintaining an open heterochromatin architecture is a highly regulated process in embryonic stem cells.
Translating the vast amounts of genomic and epigenomic information accumulated on the linear genome into three-dimensional models of nuclear organization is a current major challenge. In response to this challenge, recent technological innovations based on chromosome conformation capture methods in combination with increasingly powerful functional approaches have revealed exciting insights into key aspects of genome regulation. These findings have led to an emerging model where the genome is folded and compartmentalized into highly conserved topological domains that are further divided into functional subdomains containing physical loops that bring cis-regulatory elements to close proximity. Targeted functional experiments, largely based on designable DNA-binding proteins, have begun to define the major architectural proteins required to establish and maintain appropriate genome regulation. Here, we focus on the accessible and well-characterized system of pluripotent cells to review the functional role of chromatin organization in regulating pluripotency, differentiation and reprogramming.
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.
Trophoblast cells are required for the growth and survival of the fetus during pregnancy, and failure to maintain appropriate trophoblast regulation is associated with placental insufficiencies and intrauterine growth restriction. Development of the trophoblast lineage is mediated by interactions between genetic and epigenetic factors. This review will focus on new insights that have been gained from analysis of mouse models into the epigenetic mechanisms that are required for the early establishment of the trophoblast lineage and for the development of specialized cell types of the fetal placenta. In particular, the importance of DNA methylation, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine and histone modifications in orchestrating trophoblast gene expression and functional outcome will be discussed. These insights are beginning to be extended towards human studies and initial results suggest that the causes and consequences of a variety of placental pathologies are related to epigenetic processes. Furthermore, the epigenetic landscape that regulates trophoblast cells seems to be particularly vulnerable to perturbation during development. This has major implications for diet and other environmental factors during pregnancy.
The advent of reprogramming and its impact on stem cell biology has renewed interest in lineage restriction in mammalian embryos, the source of embryonic (ES), epiblast (EpiSC), trophoblast (TS), and extraembryonic endoderm (XEN) stem cell lineages. Isolation of specific cell types during stem cell differentiation and reprogramming, and also directly from embryos, is a major technical challenge because few cell-surface proteins are known that can distinguish each cell type. We provide a large-scale proteomic resource of cell-surface proteins for the four embryo-derived stem cell lines. We validated 27 antibodies against lineage-specific cell-surface markers, which enabled investigation of specific cell populations during ES-EpiSC reprogramming and ES-to-XEN differentiation. Identified markers also allowed prospective isolation and characterization of viable lineage progenitors from blastocysts by flow cytometry. These results provide a comprehensive stem cell proteomic resource and enable new approaches to interrogate the mechanisms that regulate cell fate specification.
An open chromatin architecture devoid of compact chromatin is thought to be associated with pluripotency in embryonic stem cells. Establishing this distinct epigenetic state may also be required for somatic cell reprogramming. However, there has been little direct examination of global structural domains of chromatin during the founding and loss of pluripotency that occurs in preimplantation mouse development. Here, we used electron spectroscopic imaging to examine large-scale chromatin structural changes during the transition from one-cell to early postimplantation stage embryos. In one-cell embryos chromatin was extensively dispersed with no noticeable accumulation at the nuclear envelope. Major changes were observed from one-cell to two-cell stage embryos, where chromatin became confined to discrete blocks of compaction and with an increased concentration at the nuclear envelope. In eight-cell embryos and pluripotent epiblast cells, chromatin was primarily distributed as an extended meshwork of uncompacted fibres and was indistinguishable from chromatin organization in embryonic stem cells. In contrast, lineage-committed trophectoderm and primitive endoderm cells, and the stem cell lines derived from these tissues, displayed higher levels of chromatin compaction, suggesting an association between developmental potential and chromatin organisation. We examined this association in vivo and found that deletion of Oct4, a factor required for pluripotency, caused the formation of large blocks of compact chromatin in putative epiblast cells. Together, these studies show that an open chromatin architecture is established in the embryonic lineages during development and is sufficient to distinguish pluripotent cells from tissue-restricted progenitor cells.
A unique property of the mammalian embryo is that stem cells can be derived from its early tissue lineages. These lineages will give rise to the fetus as well as essential extraembryonic tissues. Understanding how chromatin regulation participates in establishment of these lineages in the embryo and their derived stem cells provides insight that will critically inform our understanding of embryogenesis and stem cell biology. Here, we compare the genomewide location of active and repressive histone modifications in embryonic stem cells, trophoblast stem cells, and extraembryonic endoderm stem cells from the mouse. Our results show that the active modification H3K4me3 has a similar role in the three stem cell types, but the repressive modification H3K27me3 varies in abundance and genomewide distribution. Thus, alternative mechanisms mediate transcriptional repression in stem cells from the embryo. In addition, using carrier chromatin immunoprecipitation we show that bivalent histone domains seen in embryonic stem cells exist in pluripotent cells of the early embryo. However, the epigenetic status of extraembryonic progenitor cells in the embryo did not entirely reflect the extraembryonic stem cell lines. These studies indicate that histone modification mechanisms may differ between early embryo lineages and emphasize the importance of examining in vivo and in vitro progenitor cells.
We describe how recent advances in stem cell research may be interpreted by various regulatory regimes and use Canada as a model to demonstrate how broad-based prohibitive legislation can unintentionally restrict research direction. We encourage scientists and policymakers to collaborate to ensure a clear regulatory framework that accommodates future advances.
Investigation of the epigenetic stability of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) is a crucial step for their use in cell-replacement therapies, as well as for assessing whether hESCs model epigenetic regulation in human pre-implantation cell types. To address these issues, we have examined the expression of imprinted genes in a previous study and more recently in 46 individual hESC lines as part of the International Stem Cell Initiative. Our results show that nearly all hESC lines examined possessed a substantial degree of epigenetic stability, despite differences in genetic background and in their derivation and initial propagation conditions. However, some hESCs did show loss of allele-specific expression, which could have implications for hESC differentiation and epigenetic stability (both in vitro and after clinical transplantation). A benefit of our and other recent studies of genomic imprinting in hESCs was the identification of imprinted genes that provide a useful indication of epigenetic stability. SNRPN, IPW and KCNQ1OT1 were highly stable and thus appeared insensitive to perturbation; in contrast, H19, IGF2 and MEG3 were more variable and thus could potentially provide a sensitive indication of epigenetic status. In this review, we examine the differences between imprinted genes in their susceptibility to perturbation and discuss the potential molecular basis for these differences. This examination provides insight into the regulation of genomic imprinting in hESCs and the corresponding peri-implantation stages of human development.
Although the first mouse embryonic stem (ES) cell lines were derived 25 years ago using feeder-layer-based blastocyst cultures, subsequent efforts to extend the approach to other mammals, including both laboratory and domestic species, have been relatively unsuccessful. The most notable exceptions were the derivation of non-human primate ES cell lines followed shortly thereafter by their derivation of human ES cells. Despite the apparent common origin and the similar pluripotency of mouse and human embryonic stem cells, recent studies have revealed that they use different signalling pathways to maintain their pluripotent status. Mouse ES cells depend on leukaemia inhibitory factor and bone morphogenetic protein, whereas their human counterparts rely on activin (INHBA)/nodal (NODAL) and fibroblast growth factor (FGF). Here we show that pluripotent stem cells can be derived from the late epiblast layer of post-implantation mouse and rat embryos using chemically defined, activin-containing culture medium that is sufficient for long-term maintenance of human embryonic stem cells. Our results demonstrate that activin/Nodal signalling has an evolutionarily conserved role in the derivation and the maintenance of pluripotency in these novel stem cells. Epiblast stem cells provide a valuable experimental system for determining whether distinctions between mouse and human embryonic stem cells reflect species differences or diverse temporal origins.
The International Stem Cell Initiative characterized 59 human embryonic stem cell lines from 17 laboratories worldwide. Despite diverse genotypes and different techniques used for derivation and maintenance, all lines exhibited similar expression patterns for several markers of human embryonic stem cells. They expressed the glycolipid antigens SSEA3 and SSEA4, the keratan sulfate antigens TRA-1-60, TRA-1-81, GCTM2 and GCT343, and the protein antigens CD9, Thy1 (also known as CD90), tissue-nonspecific alkaline phosphatase and class 1 HLA, as well as the strongly developmentally regulated genes NANOG, POU5F1 (formerly known as OCT4), TDGF1, DNMT3B, GABRB3 and GDF3. Nevertheless, the lines were not identical: differences in expression of several lineage markers were evident, and several imprinted genes showed generally similar allele-specific expression patterns, but some gene-dependent variation was observed. Also, some female lines expressed readily detectable levels of XIST whereas others did not. No significant contamination of the lines with mycoplasma, bacteria or cytopathic viruses was detected.
In order to exploit the exceptional potential of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in cell-replacement therapies, the genetic and epigenetic factors controlling early human development must be better defined. Limitations in human embryonic material restrict the scale of studies that can be performed, and therefore an in vitro model in which to study epigenetic regulation in human preimplantation cell types would be desirable. HESCs could provide such a model, but since they are derived from a stage in mammalian development when the genome is undergoing global epigenetic remodelling, it is unclear whether their epigenetic status would be stable or subject to variation. Herein, we discuss recent work that examines allele-specific imprinted gene expression and methylation patterns, thereby demonstrating that hESCs maintain a substantial degree of epigenetic stability during culture. Therefore, we suggest that hESCs could provide a model for studying epigenetic regulation during the early stages of human cellular pluripotency and differentiation. Furthermore, we propose specific experiments using such a model to address important questions pertaining to epigenetic mechanisms of certain human disorders.
We examined the allele-specific expression of six imprinted genes and the methylation profiles of three imprinting control regions to assess the epigenetic status of human embryonic stem cells. We identified generally monoallelic gene expression and normal methylation patterns. During prolonged passage, one cell line became biallelic with respect to H19, but without loss of the gametic methylation imprint. These data argue for a substantial degree of epigenetic stability in human embryonic stem cells.
It is widely recognized that gain- and loss-of-function approaches are essential for understanding the functions of specific genes, and such approaches would be particularly valuable in studies involving human embryonic stem (hES) cells. We describe a simple and efficient approach using lipofection to transfect hES cells, which enabled us to generate hES cell lines expressing naturally fluorescent green or red proteins without affecting cell pluripotency. We used these cell lines to establish a means of diminishing gene function using small interfering (si)RNAs, which were effective at knocking down gene expression in hES cells. We then demonstrated that stable expression of siRNA could knock down the expression of endogenous genes. Application of these gain- and loss-of-function approaches should have widespread use, not only in revealing the developmental roles of specific human genes, but also for their utility in modulating differentiation.