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

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

DNA methylation aging clocks: challenges and recommendations.
Bell CG, Lowe R, Adams PD, Baccarelli AA, Beck S, Bell JT, Christensen BC, Gladyshev VN, Heijmans BT, Horvath S, Ideker T, Issa JJ, Kelsey KT, Marioni RE, Reik W, Relton CL, Schalkwyk LC, Teschendorff AE, Wagner W, Zhang K, Rakyan VK

Epigenetic clocks comprise a set of CpG sites whose DNA methylation levels measure subject age. These clocks are acknowledged as a highly accurate molecular correlate of chronological age in humans and other vertebrates. Also, extensive research is aimed at their potential to quantify biological aging rates and test longevity or rejuvenating interventions. Here, we discuss key challenges to understand clock mechanisms and biomarker utility. This requires dissecting the drivers and regulators of age-related changes in single-cell, tissue- and disease-specific models, as well as exploring other epigenomic marks, longitudinal and diverse population studies, and non-human models. We also highlight important ethical issues in forensic age determination and predicting the trajectory of biological aging in an individual.

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Genome biology, 20, 1, 25 11 2019

DOI: 10.1186/s13059-019-1824-y

PMID: 31767039

Tet3 regulates cellular identity and DNA methylation in neural progenitor cells.
Santiago M, Antunes C, Guedes M, Iacovino M, Kyba M, Reik W, Sousa N, Pinto L, Branco MR, Marques CJ

TET enzymes oxidize 5-methylcytosine (5mC) into 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), a process thought to be intermediary in an active DNA demethylation mechanism. Notably, 5hmC is highly abundant in the brain and in neuronal cells. Here, we interrogated the function of Tet3 in neural precursor cells (NPCs), using a stable and inducible knockdown system and an in vitro neural differentiation protocol. We show that Tet3 is upregulated during neural differentiation, whereas Tet1 is downregulated. Surprisingly, Tet3 knockdown led to a de-repression of pluripotency-associated genes such as Oct4, Nanog or Tcl1, with concomitant hypomethylation. Moreover, in Tet3 knockdown NPCs, we observed the appearance of OCT4-positive cells forming cellular aggregates, suggesting de-differentiation of the cells. Notably, Tet3 KD led to a genome-scale loss of DNA methylation and hypermethylation of a smaller number of CpGs that are located at neurogenesis-related genes and at imprinting control regions (ICRs) of Peg10, Zrsr1 and Mcts2 imprinted genes. Overall, our results suggest that TET3 is necessary to maintain silencing of pluripotency genes and consequently neural stem cell identity, possibly through regulation of DNA methylation levels in neural precursor cells.

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Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS, , 1420-9071, 2019

PMID: 31646359