We are interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that control the accurate and timely expression of genes during development.
Post-translational modifications to histone proteins play key roles in these processes. We aim to understand how histone modifications or ‘marks’ set up chromatin states that support active transcription or gene repression. In particular, we are interested in the so-called bivalent domains, a peculiar combination of active and repressive histone marks found at developmentally regulated genes.
Bivalent domains are thought to keep genes in a poised state in undifferentiated cells such as embryonic stem cells, ready for activation upon signals that cause the cells to differentiate. We study how different histone modifiers and readers interact to establish complex regulatory systems that control development and cause disease if mis-regulated. We are taking a multidisciplinary approach to tackle these questions, combining biochemistry with proteomic, genomic, cell-biological, imaging-based, and systems biology-inspired techniques.
Understanding exactly how these complex regulatory systems establish proper gene expression patterns during development will allow us to investigate how these systems deteriorate during ageing and cause disease, while opening avenues towards mitigating such processes and towards applications in regenerative medicine.
The tail of replication-dependent histone H3.1 varies from that of replication-independent H3.3 at the amino acid located at position 31 in plants and animals, but no function has been assigned to this residue to demonstrate a unique and conserved role for H3.1 during replication. We found that TONSOKU (TSK/TONSL), which rescues broken replication forks, specifically interacts with H3.1 via recognition of alanine 31 by its tetratricopeptide repeat domain. Our results indicate that genomic instability in the absence of ATXR5/ATXR6-catalyzed histone H3 lysine 27 monomethylation in plants depends on H3.1, TSK, and DNA polymerase theta (Pol θ). This work reveals an H3.1-specific function during replication and a common strategy used in multicellular eukaryotes for regulating post-replicative chromatin maturation and TSK, which relies on histone monomethyltransferases and reading of the H3.1 variant.
The Isw1b chromatin-remodeling complex is specifically recruited to gene bodies to help retain pre-existing histones during transcription by RNA polymerase II. Recruitment is dependent on H3K36 methylation and the Isw1b subunit Ioc4, which contains an N-terminal PWWP domain. Here, we present the crystal structure of the Ioc4-PWWP domain, including a detailed functional characterization of the domain on its own as well as in the context of full-length Ioc4 and the Isw1b remodeler. The Ioc4-PWWP domain preferentially binds H3K36me3-containing nucleosomes. Its ability to bind DNA is required for nucleosome binding. It is also furthered by the unique insertion motif present in Ioc4-PWWP. The ability to bind H3K36me3 and DNA promotes the interaction of full-length Ioc4 with nucleosomes in vitro and they are necessary for its recruitment to gene bodies in vivo. Furthermore, a fully functional Ioc4-PWWP domain promotes efficient remodeling by Isw1b and the maintenance of ordered chromatin in vivo, thereby preventing the production of non-coding RNAs.
Epigenetic mechanisms play diverse roles in the regulation of genome stability in eukaryotes. In Arabidopsis thaliana, genome stability is maintained during DNA replication by the H3.1K27 methyltransferases ARABIDOPSIS TRITHORAX-RELATED PROTEIN 5 (ATXR5) and ATXR6, which catalyze the deposition of K27me1 on replication-dependent H3.1 variants. The loss of H3.1K27me1 in atxr5 atxr6 double mutants leads to heterochromatin defects, including transcriptional de-repression and genomic instability, but the molecular mechanisms involved remain largely unknown. In this study, we identified the transcriptional co-activator and conserved histone acetyltransferase GCN5 as a mediator of transcriptional de-repression and genomic instability in the absence of H3.1K27me1. GCN5 is part of a SAGA-like complex in plants that requires the GCN5-interacting protein ADA2b and the chromatin remodeler CHR6 to mediate the heterochromatic defects in atxr5 atxr6 mutants. Our results also indicate that Arabidopsis GCN5 acetylates multiple lysine residues on H3.1 variants, but H3.1K27 and H3.1K36 play essential functions in inducing genomic instability in the absence of H3.1K27me1. Finally, we show that H3.1K36 acetylation by GCN5 is negatively regulated by H3.1K27me1 in vitro. Overall, this work reveals a key molecular role for H3.1K27me1 in maintaining transcriptional silencing and genome stability in heterochromatin by restricting GCN5-mediated histone acetylation in plants.