Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

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

Science Forum: The Human Cell Atlas.
Regev A, Teichmann SA, Lander ES, Amit I, Benoist C, Birney E, Bodenmiller B, Campbell PJ, Carninci P, Clatworthy M, Clevers H, Deplancke B, Dunham I, Eberwine J, Eils R, Enard W, Farmer A, Fugger L, Göttgens B, Hacohen N, Haniffa M, Hemberg M, Kim SK, Klenerman P, Kriegstein A, Lein E, Linnarsson S, Lundberg E, Lundeberg J, Majumder P, Marioni JC, Merad M, Mhlanga M, Nawijn M, Netea M, Nolan G, Pe'er D, Phillipakis A, Ponting CP, Quake SR, Reik W, Rozenblatt-Rosen O, Sanes JR, Satija R, Schumacher TN, Shalek AK, Shapiro E, Sharma P, Shin JW, Stegle O, Stratton MR, Stubbington MJT, Theis FJ, Uhlen M, van Oudenaarden A, Wagner A, Watt FM, Weissman JS, Wold BJ, Xavier RJ, Yosef N,

The recent advent of methods for high-throughput single-cell molecular profiling has catalyzed a growing sense in the scientific community that the time is ripe to complete the 150-year-old effort to identify all cell types in the human body. The Human Cell Atlas Project is an international collaborative effort that aims to define all human cell types in terms of distinctive molecular profiles (such as gene expression profiles) and to connect this information with classical cellular descriptions (such as location and morphology). An open comprehensive reference map of the molecular state of cells in healthy human tissues would propel the systematic study of physiological states, developmental trajectories, regulatory circuitry and interactions of cells, and also provide a framework for understanding cellular dysregulation in human disease. Here we describe the idea, its potential utility, early proofs-of-concept, and some design considerations for the Human Cell Atlas, including a commitment to open data, code, and community.

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eLife, 6, 2050-084X, , 2017

PMID: 29206104

Coupling shRNA screens with single-cell RNA-seq identifies a dual role for mTOR in reprogramming-induced senescence.
Aarts M, Georgilis A, Beniazza M, Beolchi P, Banito A, Carroll T, Kulisic M, Kaemena DF, Dharmalingam G, Martin N, Reik W, Zuber J, Kaji K, Chandra T, Gil J

Expression of the transcription factors OCT4, SOX2, KLF4, and cMYC (OSKM) reprograms somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Reprogramming is a slow and inefficient process, suggesting the presence of safeguarding mechanisms that counteract cell fate conversion. One such mechanism is senescence. To identify modulators of reprogramming-induced senescence, we performed a genome-wide shRNA screen in primary human fibroblasts expressing OSKM. In the screen, we identified novel mediators of OSKM-induced senescence and validated previously implicated genes such as CDKN1A We developed an innovative approach that integrates single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) with the shRNA screen to investigate the mechanism of action of the identified candidates. Our data unveiled regulation of senescence as a novel way by which mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) influences reprogramming. On one hand, mTOR inhibition blunts the induction of cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitors (CDKIs), including p16(INK4a), p21(CIP1), and p15(INK4b), preventing OSKM-induced senescence. On the other hand, inhibition of mTOR blunts the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP), which itself favors reprogramming. These contrasting actions contribute to explain the complex effect that mTOR has on reprogramming. Overall, our study highlights the advantage of combining functional screens with scRNA-seq to accelerate the discovery of pathways controlling complex phenotypes.

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Genes & development, , 1549-5477, , 2017

PMID: 29138277

An endosiRNA-Based Repression Mechanism Counteracts Transposon Activation during Global DNA Demethylation in Embryonic Stem Cells.
Berrens RV, Andrews S, Spensberger D, Santos F, Dean W, Gould P, Sharif J, Olova N, Chandra T, Koseki H, von Meyenn F, Reik W

Erasure of DNA methylation and repressive chromatin marks in the mammalian germline leads to risk of transcriptional activation of transposable elements (TEs). Here, we used mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to identify an endosiRNA-based mechanism involved in suppression of TE transcription. In ESCs with DNA demethylation induced by acute deletion of Dnmt1, we saw an increase in sense transcription at TEs, resulting in an abundance of sense/antisense transcripts leading to high levels of ARGONAUTE2 (AGO2)-bound small RNAs. Inhibition of Dicer or Ago2 expression revealed that small RNAs are involved in an immediate response to demethylation-induced transposon activation, while the deposition of repressive histone marks follows as a chronic response. In vivo, we also found TE-specific endosiRNAs present during primordial germ cell development. Our results suggest that antisense TE transcription is a "trap" that elicits an endosiRNA response to restrain acute transposon activity during epigenetic reprogramming in the mammalian germline.

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Cell stem cell, 21, 1875-9777, 694-703.e7, 2017

PMID: 29100015

Group Members

Latest Publications

Science Forum: The Human Cell Atlas.

Regev A, Teichmann SA, Lander ES

eLife
6 2050-084X: (2017)

PMID: 29206104

An endosiRNA-Based Repression Mechanism Counteracts Transposon Activation during Global DNA Demethylation in Embryonic Stem Cells.

Berrens RV, Andrews S, Spensberger D

Cell stem cell
21 1875-9777:694-703.e7 (2017)

PMID: 29100015

cuRRBS: simple and robust evaluation of enzyme combinations for reduced representation approaches.

Martin-Herranz DE, Ribeiro AJM, Krueger F

Nucleic acids research
1362-4962: (2017)

PMID: 29036576

Establishment of mouse expanded potential stem cells.

Yang J, Ryan DJ, Wang W

Nature
1476-4687: (2017)

PMID: 29019987

Single-cell epigenomics: Recording the past and predicting the future.

Kelsey G, Stegle O, Reik W

Science (New York, N.Y.)
358 1095-9203:69-75 (2017)

PMID: 28983045

Single-Cell Landscape of Transcriptional Heterogeneity and Cell Fate Decisions during Mouse Early Gastrulation.

Mohammed H, Hernando-Herraez I, Savino A

Cell reports
20 2211-1247:1215-1228 (2017)

PMID: 28768204

Epigenetic resetting of human pluripotency.

Guo G, von Meyenn F, Rostovskaya M

Development (Cambridge, England)
144 1477-9129:2748-2763 (2017)

PMID: 28765214

Proliferation Drives Aging-Related Functional Decline in a Subpopulation of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Compartment.

Kirschner K, Chandra T, Kiselev V

Cell reports
19 2211-1247:1503-1511 (2017)

PMID: 28538171

A MILI-independent piRNA biogenesis pathway empowers partial germline reprogramming.

Vasiliauskaitė L, Vitsios D, Berrens RV

Nature structural & molecular biology
1545-9985: (2017)

PMID: 28530707

Multi-tissue DNA methylation age predictor in mouse.

Stubbs TM, Bonder MJ, Stark AK

Genome biology
18 1474-760X:68 (2017)

PMID: 28399939

DeepCpG: accurate prediction of single-cell DNA methylation states using deep learning.

Angermueller C, Lee HJ, Reik W

Genome biology
18 1474-760X:67 (2017)

PMID: 28395661