Wolf Reik

Research Summary

Epigenetic modifications such as DNA methylation and histone marks are often relatively stable in differentiated and in adult tissues in the body, where they help to confer a stable cell identity on tissues. The process of epigenetic reprogramming, by which many of these marks are removed from DNA, is important for the function of embryonic stem cells and in reprogramming stem cells from adult tissue cells. When this erasure goes wrong there may be adverse consequences for healthy development and ageing, which can potentially extend over more than one generation.

​Our insights into the mechanisms of epigenetic reprogramming may help with developing better strategies for stem cell therapies and to combat age related decline. We have also recently initiated work on epigenetic regulation of social behaviours in insects, where we are interested in how patterning and regulation of DNA methylation in the brain is linked with the evolution of sociality.

Latest Publications

Low rates of mutation in clinical grade human pluripotent stem cells under different culture conditions.
Thompson O, von Meyenn F, Hewitt Z, Alexander J, Wood A, Weightman R, Gregory S, Krueger F, Andrews S, Barbaric I, Gokhale PJ, Moore HD, Reik W, Milo M, Nik-Zainal S, Yusa K, Andrews PW

The occurrence of repetitive genomic changes that provide a selective growth advantage in pluripotent stem cells is of concern for their clinical application. However, the effect of different culture conditions on the underlying mutation rate is unknown. Here we show that the mutation rate in two human embryonic stem cell lines derived and banked for clinical application is low and not substantially affected by culture with Rho Kinase inhibitor, commonly used in their routine maintenance. However, the mutation rate is reduced by >50% in cells cultured under 5% oxygen, when we also found alterations in imprint methylation and reversible DNA hypomethylation. Mutations are evenly distributed across the chromosomes, except for a slight increase on the X-chromosome, and an elevation in intergenic regions suggesting that chromatin structure may affect mutation rate. Overall the results suggest that pluripotent stem cells are not subject to unusually high rates of genetic or epigenetic alterations.

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Nature communications, 11, 1, 23 Mar 2020

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15271-3

PMID: 32251294

Tet3 ablation in adult brain neurons increases anxiety-like behavior and regulates cognitive function in mice.
Antunes C, Da Silva JD, Guerra-Gomes S, Alves ND, Ferreira F, Loureiro-Campos E, Branco MR, Sousa N, Reik W, Pinto L, Marques CJ

TET3 is a member of the ten-eleven translocation (TET) family of enzymes which oxidize 5-methylcytosine (5mC) into 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC). Tet3 is highly expressed in the brain, where 5hmC levels are most abundant. In adult mice, we observed that TET3 is present in mature neurons and oligodendrocytes but is absent in astrocytes. To investigate the function of TET3 in adult postmitotic neurons, we crossed Tet3 floxed mice with a neuronal Cre-expressing mouse line, Camk2a-CreERT2, obtaining a Tet3 conditional KO (cKO) mouse line. Ablation of Tet3 in adult mature neurons resulted in increased anxiety-like behavior with concomitant hypercorticalism, and impaired hippocampal-dependent spatial orientation. Transcriptome and gene-specific expression analysis of the hippocampus showed dysregulation of genes involved in glucocorticoid signaling pathway (HPA axis) in the ventral hippocampus, whereas upregulation of immediate early genes was observed in both dorsal and ventral hippocampal areas. In addition, Tet3 cKO mice exhibit increased dendritic spine maturation in the ventral CA1 hippocampal subregion. Based on these observations, we suggest that TET3 is involved in molecular alterations that govern hippocampal-dependent functions. These results reveal a critical role for epigenetic modifications in modulating brain functions, opening new insights into the molecular basis of neurological disorders.

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Molecular psychiatry, 1, 1, 26 Feb 2020

DOI: 10.1038/s41380-020-0695-7

PMID: 32103150

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