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.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are of fundamental relevance in regenerative medicine. Naïve hPSCs hold promise to overcome some of the limitations of conventional (primed) hPSCs, including recurrent epigenetic anomalies. Naïve-to-primed transition (capacitation) follows transcriptional dynamics of human embryonic epiblast and is necessary for somatic differentiation from naïve hPSCs. We found that capacitated hPSCs are transcriptionally closer to postimplantation epiblast than conventional hPSCs. This prompted us to comprehensively study epigenetic and related transcriptional changes during capacitation. Our results show that CpG islands, gene regulatory elements, and retrotransposons are hotspots of epigenetic dynamics during capacitation and indicate possible distinct roles of specific epigenetic modifications in gene expression control between naïve and primed hPSCs. Unexpectedly, PRC2 activity appeared to be dispensable for the capacitation. We find that capacitated hPSCs acquire an epigenetic state similar to conventional hPSCs. Significantly, however, the X chromosome erosion frequently observed in conventional female hPSCs is reversed by resetting and subsequent capacitation.
Histone methyltransferases (HMTs) catalyze the methylation of lysine and arginine residues in histone as well as nonhistone substrates. In vitro histone methyltransferase assays have been instrumental in identifying HMTs, and they continue to be invaluable tools for the study of these important enzymes, revealing novel substrates and modes of regulation.Here we describe a universal protocol to examine HMT activity in vitro that can be adapted to a range of HMTs, substrates, and experimental objectives. We provide protocols for the detection of activity based on incorporation of H-labeled methyl groups from S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), methylation-specific antibodies, and quantification of the reaction product S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH).
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.