The Babraham Institute Publications database contains details of all publications resulting from our research groups and scientific facilities. Pre-prints by Institute authors can be viewed on the Institute's bioRxiv channel. We believe that free and open access to the outputs of publicly‐funded research offers significant social and economic benefits, as well as aiding the development of new research. We are working to provide Open Access to as many publications as possible and these can be identified below by the padlock icon. Where this hasn't been possible, subscriptions may be required to view the full text.
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.
Noroviruses are recognized as the major cause of non-bacterial gastroenteritis in humans. Molecular mechanisms driving norovirus evolution are the accumulation of point mutations and recombination. Recombination can create considerable changes in a viral genome, potentially eliciting a fitness cost, which must be compensated via the adaptive capacity of a recombinant virus. We previously described replicative fitness reduction of the first generated WU20-CW1 recombinant murine norovirus, RecMNV. In this follow-up study, RecMNV's capability of replicative fitness recuperation and genetic characteristics of RecMNV progenies at early and late stages of an adaptation experiment were evaluated. Replicative fitness regain of the recombinant was demonstrated via growth kinetics and plaque size differences between viral progenies prior to and post serial passaging. Point mutations at consensus and sub-consensus population levels of early and late viral progenies were characterized via next-generation sequencing and putatively associated to fitness changes. To investigate the effect of genomic changes separately and in combination in the context of a lab-generated inter-MNV infectious virus, mutations were introduced into a recombinant WU20-CW1 cDNA for subsequent DNA-based reverse genetics recovery. We thus associated fitness loss of RecMNV to a C7245T mutation and functional VP2 (ORF3) truncation and demonstrated individual and cumulative compensatory effects of one synonymous OFR2 and two non-synonymous ORF1 consensus-level mutations acquired during successive rounds of replication. Our data provide evidence of viral adaptation in a controlled environment via genetic drift after genetic shift induced a fitness cost of an infectious recombinant norovirus.
Consumption of fructose has risen markedly in recent decades owing to the use of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup in beverages and processed foods, and this has contributed to increasing rates of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Fructose intake triggers de novo lipogenesis in the liver, in which carbon precursors of acetyl-CoA are converted into fatty acids. The ATP citrate lyase (ACLY) enzyme cleaves cytosolic citrate to generate acetyl-CoA, and is upregulated after consumption of carbohydrates. Clinical trials are currently pursuing the inhibition of ACLY as a treatment for metabolic diseases. However, the route from dietary fructose to hepatic acetyl-CoA and lipids remains unknown. Here, using in vivo isotope tracing, we show that liver-specific deletion of Acly in mice is unable to suppress fructose-induced lipogenesis. Dietary fructose is converted to acetate by the gut microbiota, and this supplies lipogenic acetyl-CoA independently of ACLY. Depletion of the microbiota or silencing of hepatic ACSS2, which generates acetyl-CoA from acetate, potently suppresses the conversion of bolus fructose into hepatic acetyl-CoA and fatty acids. When fructose is consumed more gradually to facilitate its absorption in the small intestine, both citrate cleavage in hepatocytes and microorganism-derived acetate contribute to lipogenesis. By contrast, the lipogenic transcriptional program is activated in response to fructose in a manner that is independent of acetyl-CoA metabolism. These data reveal a two-pronged mechanism that regulates hepatic lipogenesis, in which fructolysis within hepatocytes provides a signal to promote the expression of lipogenic genes, and the generation of microbial acetate feeds lipogenic pools of acetyl-CoA.
Germinal centres (GCs) are T follicular helper cell (Tfh)-dependent structures that form in response to vaccination, producing long-lived antibody secreting plasma cells and memory B cells that protect against subsequent infection. With advancing age the GC and Tfh cell response declines, resulting in impaired humoral immunity. We sought to discover what underpins the poor Tfh cell response in ageing and whether it is possible to correct it. Here, we demonstrate that older people and aged mice have impaired Tfh cell differentiation upon vaccination. This deficit is preceded by poor activation of conventional dendritic cells type 2 (cDC2) due to reduced type 1 interferon signalling. Importantly, the Tfh and cDC2 cell response can be boosted in aged mice by treatment with a TLR7 agonist. This demonstrates that age-associated defects in the cDC2 and Tfh cell response are not irreversible and can be enhanced to improve vaccine responses in older individuals.
Many metabolites serve as important signalling molecules to adjust cellular activities and functions based on nutrient availability. Links between acetyl-CoA metabolism, histone lysine acetylation, and gene expression have been documented and studied over the past decade. In recent years, several additional acyl modifications to histone lysine residues have been identified, which depend on acyl-coenzyme A thioesters (acyl-CoAs) as acyl donors. Acyl-CoAs are intermediates of multiple distinct metabolic pathways, and substantial evidence has emerged that histone acylation is metabolically sensitive. Nevertheless, the metabolic sources of acyl-CoAs used for chromatin modification in most cases remain poorly understood. Elucidating how these diverse chemical modifications are coupled to and regulated by cellular metabolism is important in deciphering their functional significance.
Compromising mitochondrial fusion or fission disrupts cellular homeostasis; however, the underlying mechanism(s) are not fully understood. The loss of C. elegans fzo-1MFN results in mitochondrial fragmentation, decreased mitochondrial membrane potential and the induction of the mitochondrial unfolded protein response (UPRmt). We performed a genome-wide RNAi screen for genes that when knocked-down suppress fzo-1MFN(lf)-induced UPRmt. Of the 299 genes identified, 143 encode negative regulators of autophagy, many of which have previously not been implicated in this cellular quality control mechanism. We present evidence that increased autophagic flux suppresses fzo-1MFN(lf)-induced UPRmt by increasing mitochondrial membrane potential rather than restoring mitochondrial morphology. Furthermore, we demonstrate that increased autophagic flux also suppresses UPRmt induction in response to a block in mitochondrial fission, but not in response to the loss of spg-7, which encodes a mitochondrial metalloprotease. Finally, we found that blocking mitochondrial fusion or fission leads to increased levels of certain types of triacylglycerols and that this is at least partially reverted by the induction of autophagy. We propose that the breakdown of these triacylglycerols through autophagy leads to elevated metabolic activity, thereby increasing mitochondrial membrane potential and restoring mitochondrial and cellular homeostasis.
Ever since it was first discussed in evolutionary terms by Haldane (1941), Medawar (1952), and Williams (1957), [reviewed in Partridge and Gems (2006)] aging has become a focus of much current research interest, especially following discoveries pointing to molecular, genetic, and biochemical hallmarks that control its progression and severity (López-Otín et al., 2013). Amongst the many cellular processes that provide physiological connections to the aging process, autophagy is perhaps one of the most compelling (Rubinsztein et al., 2011; Nakamura and Yoshimori, 2018).
Reproductive decline in older female mice can be attributed to a failure of the uterus to decidualise in response to steroid hormones. Here, we show that normal decidualisation is associated with significant epigenetic changes. Notably, we identify a cohort of differentially methylated regions (DMRs), most of which gain DNA methylation between the early and late stages of decidualisation. These DMRs are enriched at progesterone-responsive gene loci that are essential for reproductive function. In female mice nearing the end of their reproductive lifespan, DNA methylation fidelity is lost at a number of CpG islands (CGIs) resulting in CGI hypermethylation at key decidualisation genes. Importantly, this hypermethylated state correlates with the failure of the corresponding genes to become transcriptionally upregulated during the implantation window. Thus, age-associated DNA methylation changes may underlie the decidualisation defects that are a common occurrence in older females. Alterations to the epigenome of uterine cells may therefore contribute significantly to the reproductive decline associated with advanced maternal age.
The dual protein kinase-transcription factor, ERK5, is an emerging drug target in cancer and inflammation, and small-molecule ERK5 kinase inhibitors have been developed. However, selective ERK5 kinase inhibitors fail to recapitulate ERK5 genetic ablation phenotypes, suggesting kinase-independent functions for ERK5. Here we show that ERK5 kinase inhibitors cause paradoxical activation of ERK5 transcriptional activity mediated through its unique C-terminal transcriptional activation domain (TAD). Using the ERK5 kinase inhibitor, Compound 26 (ERK5-IN-1), as a paradigm, we have developed kinase-active, drug-resistant mutants of ERK5. With these mutants, we show that induction of ERK5 transcriptional activity requires direct binding of the inhibitor to the kinase domain. This in turn promotes conformational changes in the kinase domain that result in nuclear translocation of ERK5 and stimulation of gene transcription. This shows that both the ERK5 kinase and TAD must be considered when assessing the role of ERK5 and the effectiveness of anti-ERK5 therapeutics.
How intestinal epithelial cells interact with the microbiota and how this is regulated at the gene expression level are critical questions. Smarcad1 is a conserved chromatin remodeling factor with a poorly understood tissue function. As this factor is highly expressed in the stem and proliferative zones of the intestinal epithelium, we explore its role in this tissue.
Wallerian degeneration is a widespread mechanism of programmed axon degeneration. In the three decades since the discovery of the Wallerian degeneration slow (Wld) mouse, research has generated extensive knowledge of the molecular mechanisms underlying Wallerian degeneration, demonstrated its involvement in non-injury disorders and found multiple ways to block it. Recent developments have included: the detection of NMNAT2 mutations that implicate Wallerian degeneration in rare human diseases; the capacity for lifelong rescue of a lethal condition related to Wallerian degeneration in mice; the discovery of 'druggable' enzymes, including SARM1 and MYCBP2 (also known as PHR1), in Wallerian pathways; and the elucidation of protein structures to drive further understanding of the underlying mechanisms and drug development. Additionally, new data have indicated the potential of these advances to alleviate a number of common disorders, including chemotherapy-induced and diabetic peripheral neuropathies, traumatic brain injury, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The mammalian genome experiences profound setting and resetting of epigenetic patterns during the life-course. This is understood best for DNA methylation: the specification of germ cells, gametogenesis, and early embryo development are characterised by phases of widespread erasure and rewriting of methylation. While mitigating against intergenerational transmission of epigenetic information, these processes must also ensure correct genomic imprinting that depends on faithful and long-term memory of gamete-derived methylation states in the next generation. This underscores the importance of understanding the mechanisms of methylation programming in the germline. methylation in the oocyte is of particular interest because of its intimate association with transcription, which results in a bimodal methylome unique amongst mammalian cells. Moreover, this methylation landscape is entirely set up in a non-dividing cell, making the oocyte a fascinating model system in which to explore mechanistic determinants of methylation. Here, we summarise current knowledge on the oocyte DNA methylome and how it is established, focussing on recent insights from knockout models in the mouse that explore the interplay between methylation and chromatin states. We also highlight some remaining paradoxes and enigmas, in particular the involvement of non-nuclear factors for correct methylation.
The molecular mechanisms responsible for the high immunosuppressive capacity of CD4+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) in tumors are poorly known. High-dimensional single cell profiling of T cells from chemotherapy-naïve individuals with non-small cell lung cancer identified the transcription factor IRF4 as specifically expressed by a subset of intratumoral CD4+ effector Tregs with superior suppressive activity. In contrast to the IRF4- counterparts, IRF4+ Tregs expressed a vast array of suppressive molecules, and their presence correlated with multiple exhausted subpopulations of T cells. Integration of transcriptomic and epigenomic data revealed that IRF4, either alone or in combination with its partner BATF, directly controlled a molecular program responsible for immunosuppression in tumors. Accordingly, deletion of Irf4 exclusively in Tregs resulted in delayed tumor growth in mice while the abundance of IRF4+ Tregs correlated with poor prognosis in patients with multiple human cancers. Thus, a common mechanism underlies immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment irrespectively of the tumor type.
Chromatin modifications regulate genome function by recruiting proteins to the genome. However, the protein composition at distinct chromatin modifications has yet to be fully characterized. In this study, we used natural protein domains as modular building blocks to develop engineered chromatin readers (eCRs) selective for DNA methylation and histone tri-methylation at H3K4, H3K9 and H3K27 residues. We first demonstrated their utility as selective chromatin binders in living cells by stably expressing eCRs in mouse embryonic stem cells and measuring their subnuclear localization, genomic distribution and histone-modification-binding preference. By fusing eCRs to the biotin ligase BASU, we established ChromID, a method for identifying the chromatin-dependent protein interactome on the basis of proximity biotinylation, and applied it to distinct chromatin modifications in mouse stem cells. Using a synthetic dual-modification reader, we also uncovered the protein composition at bivalently modified promoters marked by H3K4me3 and H3K27me3. These results highlight the ability of ChromID to obtain a detailed view of protein interaction networks on chromatin.
-lipid acyltransferases are enzymes involved in various processes such as lipid synthesis and remodelling. Here, we characterized the activity of an acyltransferase from (LPIAT). In vitro, this protein, expressed in membrane, displayed a 2--phosphatidylinositol acyltransferase activity with a specificity towards saturated long chain acyl CoAs (C16:0- and C18:0-CoAs), allowing the remodelling of phosphatidylinositol. , gene was expressed in mature seeds and very transiently during seed imbibition, mostly in aleurone-like layer cells. Whereas the disruption of this gene did not alter the lipid composition of seed, its overexpression in leaves promoted a strong increase in the phosphatidylinositol phosphates (PIP) level without affecting the PIP2 content. The spatial and temporal narrow expression of this gene as well as the modification of PIP metabolism led us to investigate its role in the control of seed germination. Seeds from the mutant germinated faster and were less sensitive to abscisic acid (ABA) than wild-type or overexpressing lines. We also showed that the protective effect of ABA on young seedlings against dryness was reduced for line. In addition, germination of mutant seeds was more sensitive to hyperosmotic stress. All these results suggest a link between phosphoinositides and ABA signalling in the control of seed germination.
Human rhinoviruses (HRV) are the most common cause of viral respiratory tract infections. While normally mild and self-limiting in healthy adults, HRV infections are associated with bronchiolitis in infants, pneumonia in immunocompromised patients, and exacerbations of asthma and COPD. The human cathelicidin LL-37 is a host defense peptide (HDP) with broad immunomodulatory and antimicrobial activities that has direct antiviral effects against HRV. However, LL-37 is known to be susceptible to the enzymatic activity of peptidyl arginine deiminases (PAD), and exposure of the peptide to these enzymes results in the conversion of positively charged arginines to neutral citrullines (citrullination). Here, we demonstrate that citrullination of LL-37 reduced its direct antiviral activity against HRV. Furthermore, while the anti-rhinovirus activity of LL-37 results in dampened epithelial cell inflammatory responses, citrullination of the peptide, and a loss in antiviral activity, ameliorates this effect. This study also demonstrates that HRV infection upregulates PAD2 protein expression, and increases levels of protein citrullination, including histone H3, in human bronchial epithelial cells. Increased gene expression and HDP citrullination during infection may represent a novel viral evasion mechanism, likely applicable to a wide range of pathogens, and should therefore be considered in the design of therapeutic peptide derivatives.
Identifying DNA cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) that control the expression of specific genes is crucial for deciphering the logic of transcriptional control. Natural genetic variation can point to the possible gene regulatory function of specific sequences through their allelic associations with gene expression. However, comprehensive identification of causal regulatory sequences in brute-force association testing without incorporating prior knowledge is challenging due to limited statistical power and effects of linkage disequilibrium. Sequence variants affecting transcription factor (TF) binding at CRMs have a strong potential to influence gene regulatory function, which provides a motivation for prioritizing such variants in association testing. Here, we generate an atlas of CRMs showing predicted allelic variation in TF binding affinity in human lymphoblastoid cell lines and test their association with the expression of their putative target genes inferred from Promoter Capture Hi-C and immediate linear proximity. We reveal >1300 CRM TF-binding variants associated with target gene expression, the majority of them undetected with standard association testing. A large proportion of CRMs showing associations with the expression of genes they contact in 3D localize to the promoter regions of other genes, supporting the notion of 'epromoters': dual-action CRMs with promoter and distal enhancer activity.
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.
Collagen fibrils are central to the molecular organization of the extracellular matrix (ECM) and to defining the cellular microenvironment. Glycation of collagen fibrils is known to impact on cell adhesion and migration in the context of cancer and in model studies, glycation of collagen molecules has been shown to affect the binding of other ECM components to collagen. Here we use TEM to show that ribose-5-phosphate (R5P) glycation of collagen fibrils - potentially important in the microenvironment of actively dividing cells, such as cancer cells - disrupts the longitudinal ordering of the molecules in collagen fibrils and, using KFM and FLiM, that R5P-glycated collagen fibrils have a more negative surface charge than unglycated fibrils. Altered molecular arrangement can be expected to impact on the accessibility of cell adhesion sites and altered fibril surface charge on the integrity of the extracellular matrix structure surrounding glycated collagen fibrils. Both effects are highly relevant for cell adhesion and migration within the tumour microenvironment.
Autophagy defends cells against proliferation of bacteria such as Salmonella in the cytosol. After escape from a damaged Salmonella-containing vacuole (SCV) exposing luminal glycans that bind to Galectin-8, the host cell ubiquitination machinery deposits a dense layer of ubiquitin around the cytosolic bacteria. The nature and spatial distribution of this ubiquitin coat in relation to other autophagy-related membranes are unknown. Using Transmission Electron Microscopy we determined the exact localisation of ubiquitin, the ruptured SCV membrane and phagophores around cytosolic Salmonella. Ubiquitin was not predominantly present on the Salmonella surface, but enriched on the fragmented SCV. Cytosolic bacteria without SCVs were less efficiently targeted by phagophores. Single bacteria were contained in single phagophores but multiple bacteria could be within large autophagic vacuoles reaching 30 μm in circumference. These large phagophores followed the contour of the engulfed bacteria, they were frequently in close association with endoplasmic reticulum membranes and, within them, remnants of the SCV were seen associated with each engulfed particle. Our data suggest that the Salmonella SCV has a major role in the formation of autophagic phagophores and highlight evolutionary conserved parallel mechanisms between xenophagy and mitophagy with the fragmented SCV and the damaged outer mitochondrial membrane serving similar functions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Polypyrimidine Tract Binding Protein 1 (PTBP1) is a RNA-binding protein (RBP) expressed throughout B cell development. Deletion of in mouse pro-B cells results in upregulation of PTBP2 and normal B cell development. We show that PTBP2 compensates for PTBP1 in B cell ontogeny as deletion of both and results in a complete block at the pro-B cell stage and a lack of mature B cells. In pro-B cells PTBP1 ensures precise synchronisation of the activity of cyclin dependent kinases at distinct stages of the cell cycle, suppresses S-phase entry and promotes progression into mitosis. PTBP1 controls mRNA abundance and alternative splicing of important cell cycle regulators including CYCLIN-D2, c-MYC, p107 and CDC25B. Our results reveal a previously unrecognised mechanism mediated by a RBP that is essential for B cell ontogeny and integrates transcriptional and post-translational determinants of progression through the cell cycle.
For the last two decades there has been wide ranging debate about the status of macroautophagy during mitosis. Because metazoan cells undergo an "open" mitosis in which the nuclear envelope breaks down, it has been proposed that macroautophagy must be inhibited to maintain genome integrity. While many studies have agreed that the number of autophagosomes is greatly reduced in cells undergoing mitosis, there has been no consensus on whether this reflects decreased autophagosome synthesis or increased autophagosome degradation. Reviewing the literature we were concerned that many studies relied too heavily on autophagy assays that were simply not appropriate for a relatively brief event such as mitosis. Using highly dynamic omegasome markers we have recently shown unequivocally that autophagosome synthesis is repressed at the onset of mitosis and is restored once cell division is complete. This is accomplished by CDK1, the master regulator of mitosis, taking over the function of MTORC1, to ensure autophagy is repressed during mitosis.
Eukaryotic genomes are folded into loops. It is thought that these are formed by cohesin complexes extrusion, either until loop expansion is arrested by CTCF or until cohesin is removed from DNA by WAPL. Although WAPL limits cohesin's chromatin residence time to minutes, it has been reported that some loops exist for hours. How these loops can persist is unknown. We show that during G1-phase, mammalian cells contain acetylated cohesin which binds chromatin for hours, whereas cohesin binds chromatin for minutes. Our results indicate that CTCF and the acetyltransferase ESCO1 protect a subset of cohesin complexes from WAPL, thereby enable formation of long and presumably long-lived loops, and that ESCO1, like CTCF, contributes to boundary formation in chromatin looping. Our data are consistent with a model of nested loop extrusion, in which acetylated cohesin forms stable loops between CTCF sites, demarcating the boundaries of more transient cohesin extrusion activity.
Calmodulin sits at the center of molecular mechanisms underlying learning and memory. Its complex and sometimes opposite influences, mediated via the binding to various proteins, are yet to be fully understood. Calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) and calcineurin (CaN) both bind open calmodulin, favoring Long-Term Potentiation (LTP) or Depression (LTD) respectively. Neurogranin binds to the closed conformation of calmodulin and its impact on synaptic plasticity is less clear. We set up a mechanistic computational model based on allosteric principles to simulate calmodulin state transitions and its interactions with calcium ions and the three binding partners mentioned above. We simulated calcium spikes at various frequencies and show that neurogranin regulates synaptic plasticity along three modalities. At low spike frequencies, neurogranin inhibits the onset of LTD by limiting CaN activation. At intermediate frequencies, neurogranin facilitates LTD, but limits LTP by precluding binding of CaMKII with calmodulin. Finally, at high spike frequencies, neurogranin promotes LTP by enhancing CaMKII autophosphorylation. While neurogranin might act as a calmodulin buffer, it does not significantly preclude the calmodulin opening by calcium. On the contrary, neurogranin synchronizes the opening of calmodulin's two lobes and promotes their activation at specific frequencies. Neurogranin suppresses basal CaN activity, thus increasing the chance of CaMKII trans-autophosphorylation at high-frequency calcium spikes. Taken together, our study reveals dynamic regulatory roles played by neurogranin on synaptic plasticity, which provide mechanistic explanations for opposing experimental findings.