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.
Current knowledge of the transcriptional regulation of human pluripotency is incomplete, with lack of interspecies conservation observed. Single-cell transcriptomics analysis of human embryos previously enabled us to identify transcription factors, including the zinc-finger protein KLF17, that are enriched in the human epiblast and naïve human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Here, we show that KLF17 is expressed coincident with the known pluripotency-associated factors NANOG and SOX2 across human blastocyst development. We investigate the function of KLF17 using primed and naïve hESCs for gain- and loss-of-function analyses. We find that ectopic expression of KLF17 in primed hESCs is sufficient to induce a naïve-like transcriptome and that KLF17 can drive transgene-mediated resetting to naïve pluripotency. This implies a role for KLF17 in establishing naïve pluripotency. However, CRISPR-Cas9-mediated knockout studies reveal that KLF17 is not required for naïve pluripotency acquisition in vitro. Transcriptome analysis of naïve hESCs identifies subtle effects on metabolism and signalling pathways following KLF17 loss of function, and possible redundancy with other KLF paralogues. Overall, we show that KLF17 is sufficient, but not necessary, for naïve pluripotency under the given in vitro conditions.
How T lymphocytes tune their responses to different strengths of stimulation is a fundamental question in immunology. Recent work using new optogenetic, single-cell genomic, and live-imaging approaches has revealed that stimulation strength controls the rate of individual cell responses within a population. Moreover, these responses have been found to use shared molecular programs, regardless of stimulation strength. However, additional data indicate that stimulation duration or cytokine feedback can impact later gene expression phenotypes of activated cells. In-depth molecular studies have suggested mechanisms by which stimulation strength might modulate the probability of T cell activation. This emerging model allows activating T cells to achieve a wide range of population responses through probabilistic control within individual cells.
The protozoan parasite is the causative agent of the neglected tropical disease human African trypanosomiasis, otherwise known as sleeping sickness. Trypanosomes have evolved many immune-evasion mechanisms to facilitate their own survival, as well as prolonging host survival to ensure completion of the parasitic life cycle. A key feature of the bloodstream form of is the secretion of aromatic keto acids, which are metabolized from tryptophan. In this study, we describe an immunomodulatory role for one of these keto acids, indole-3-pyruvate (I3P). We demonstrate that I3P inhibits the production of PGs in activated macrophages. We also show that, despite the reduction in downstream PGs, I3P augments the expression of cyclooxygenase (COX2). This increase in COX2 expression is mediated in part via inhibition of PGs relieving a negative-feedback loop on COX2. Activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor also participates in this effect. However, the increase in COX2 expression is of little functionality, as we also provide evidence to suggest that I3P targets COX activity. This study therefore details an evasion strategy by which a trypanosome-secreted metabolite potently inhibits macrophage-derived PGs, which might promote host and trypanosome survival.
PGs are important proinflammatory lipid mediators, the significance of which is highlighted by the widespread and efficacious use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the treatment of inflammation. 4-Octyl itaconate (4-OI), a derivative of the Krebs cycle-derived metabolite itaconate, has recently garnered much interest as an anti-inflammatory agent. In this article, we show that 4-OI limits PG production in murine macrophages stimulated with the TLR1/2 ligand Pam3CSK4. This decrease in PG secretion is due to a robust suppression of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2) expression by 4-OI, with both mRNA and protein levels decreased. Dimethyl fumarate, a fumarate derivative used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, with properties similar to itaconate, replicated the phenotype observed with 4-OI. We also demonstrate that the decrease in COX2 expression and inhibition of downstream PG production occurs in an NRF2-independent manner. Our findings provide a new insight into the potential of 4-OI as an anti-inflammatory agent and also identifies a novel anti-inflammatory function of dimethyl fumarate.
The Autophagy, Inflammation and Metabolism (AIM) Center organized a globally accessible, virtual eSymposium during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The conference included presentations from scientific leaders, as well as a career discussion panel, and provided a much-needed platform for early-career investigators (ECIs) to showcase their research in autophagy. This Perspective summarizes the science presented by the ECIs during the event and discusses the lessons learned from a virtual meeting of this kind during the pandemic. The meeting was a learning experience for all involved, and the ECI participants herein offer their thoughts on the pros and cons of virtual meetings as a modality, either as standalone or hybrid events, with a view towards the post-pandemic world.
Metabolic and nutrient-sensing pathways play an important role in controlling the efficacy of effector T cells. Oxygen is a critical regulator of cellular metabolism. However, during immune responses T cells must function in oxygen-deficient, or hypoxic, environments. Here, we used high resolution mass spectrometry to investigate how the proteome of primary murine CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) is reconfigured in response to hypoxia . We identified and quantified over 7,600 proteins and discovered that hypoxia increased the abundance of a selected number of proteins in CTLs. This included glucose transporters, metabolic enzymes, transcription factors, cytolytic effector molecules, checkpoint receptors and adhesion molecules. While some of these proteins may augment the effector functions of CTLs, others may limit their cytotoxicity. Moreover, we determined that hypoxia could inhibit IL-2-induced proliferation cues and antigen-induced pro-inflammatory cytokine production in CTLs. These data provide a comprehensive resource for understanding the magnitude of the CTL response to hypoxia and emphasise the importance of oxygen-sensing pathways for controlling CD8 T cells. Additionally, this study provides new understanding about how hypoxia may promote the effector function of CTLs, while contributing to their dysfunction in some contexts.
Germline specification in mammals occurs through an inductive process whereby competent cells in the post-implantation epiblast differentiate into primordial germ cells (PGC). The intrinsic factors that endow epiblast cells with the competence to respond to germline inductive signals remain unknown. Single-cell RNA sequencing across multiple stages of an in vitro PGC-like cells (PGCLC) differentiation system shows that PGCLC genes initially expressed in the naïve pluripotent stage become homogeneously dismantled in germline competent epiblast like-cells (EpiLC). In contrast, the decommissioning of enhancers associated with these germline genes is incomplete. Namely, a subset of these enhancers partly retain H3K4me1, accumulate less heterochromatic marks and remain accessible and responsive to transcriptional activators. Subsequently, as in vitro germline competence is lost, these enhancers get further decommissioned and lose their responsiveness to transcriptional activators. Importantly, using H3K4me1-deficient cells, we show that the loss of this histone modification reduces the germline competence of EpiLC and decreases PGCLC differentiation efficiency. Our work suggests that, although H3K4me1 might not be essential for enhancer function, it can facilitate the (re)activation of enhancers and the establishment of gene expression programs during specific developmental transitions.
[Figure: see text].
Since Waller and Cajal in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, laboratory traumatic peripheral nerve injury studies have provided great insight into cellular and molecular mechanisms governing axon degeneration and the responses of Schwann cells, the major glial cell type of peripheral nerves. It is now evident that pathways underlying injury-induced axon degeneration and the Schwann cell injury-specific state, the repair Schwann cell, are relevant to many inherited and acquired disorders of peripheral nerves. This review provides a timely update on the molecular understanding of axon degeneration and formation of the repair Schwann cell. We discuss how nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyltransferase 2 (NMNAT2) and sterile alpha TIR motif containing protein 1 (SARM1) are required for axon survival and degeneration, respectively, how transcription factor c-JUN is essential for the Schwann cell response to nerve injury and what each tells us about disease mechanisms and potential therapies. Human genetic association with NMNAT2 and SARM1 strongly suggests aberrant activation of programmed axon death in polyneuropathies and motor neuron disorders, respectively, and animal studies suggest wider involvement including in chemotherapy-induced and diabetic neuropathies. In repair Schwann cells, cJUN is aberrantly expressed in a wide variety of human acquired and inherited neuropathies. Animal models suggest it limits axon loss in both genetic and traumatic neuropathies, whereas in contrast, Schwann cell secreted Neuregulin-1 type 1 drives onion bulb pathology in CMT1A. Finally, we discuss opportunities for drug-based and gene therapies to prevent axon loss or manipulate the repair Schwann cell state to treat acquired and inherited neuropathies and neuronopathies.
P-Rex1 is a guanine-nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) that activates Rac-type small G proteins in response to the stimulation of a range of receptors, particularly G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), to control cytoskeletal dynamics and other Rac-dependent cell responses. P-Rex1 is mainly expressed in leukocytes and neurons. Whereas its roles in leukocytes have been studied extensively, relatively little is known about its functions in neurons. Here, we used CRISPR/Cas9-mediated P-Rex1 deficiency in neuronal PC12 cells that stably overexpress the GPCR S1PR1, a receptor for sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), to investigate the role of P-Rex1 in neuronal GPCR signalling and cell responses. We show that P-Rex1 is required for the S1P-stimulated activation of Rac1 and Akt, basal Rac3 activity, and constitutive cAMP production in PC12-S1PR1 cells. The constitutive cAMP production was not due to increased expression levels of major neuronal adenylyl cyclases, suggesting that P-Rex1 may regulate adenylyl cyclase activity. P-Rex1 was required for maintenance of neurite protrusions and spreading in S1P-stimulated PC12-S1PR1 cells, as well as for cell-cycle progression and proliferation. In summary, we identified novel functional roles of P-Rex1 in neuronal Rac, Akt and cAMP signalling, as well as in neuronal cell-cycle progression and proliferation.
Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are guardians of mucosal immunity, yet the transcriptional networks that support their function remain poorly understood. We used inducible combinatorial deletion of key transcription factors (TFs) required for ILC development (RORγt, RORα and T-bet) to determine their necessity in maintaining ILC3 identity and function. Both RORγt and RORα were required to preserve optimum effector functions; however, RORα was sufficient to support robust interleukin-22 production among the lymphoid tissue inducer (LTi)-like ILC3 subset, but not natural cytotoxicity receptor (NCR) ILC3s. Lymphoid tissue inducer-like ILC3s persisted with only selective loss of phenotype and effector functions even after the loss of both TFs. In contrast, continued RORγt expression was essential to restrain transcriptional networks associated with type 1 immunity within NCR ILC3s, which coexpress T-bet. Full differentiation to an ILC1-like population required the additional loss of RORα. Together, these data demonstrate how TF networks integrate within mature ILCs after development to sustain effector functions, imprint phenotype and restrict alternative differentiation programs.
Altered transcription is a cardinal feature of acute myeloid leukemia (AML); however, exactly how mutations synergize to remodel the epigenetic landscape and rewire three-dimensional DNA topology is unknown. Here, we apply an integrated genomic approach to a murine allelic series that models the two most common mutations in AML: Flt3-ITD and Npm1c. We then deconvolute the contribution of each mutation to alterations of the epigenetic landscape and genome organization, and infer how mutations synergize in the induction of AML. Our studies demonstrate that Flt3-ITD signals to chromatin to alter the epigenetic environment and synergizes with mutations in Npm1c to alter gene expression and drive leukemia induction. These analyses also allow the identification of long-range cis-regulatory circuits, including a previously unknown superenhancer of Hoxa locus, as well as larger and more detailed gene-regulatory networks, driven by transcription factors including PU.1 and IRF8, whose importance we demonstrate through perturbation of network members.
Assessing drug response within live native tissue provides increased fidelity with regards to optimizing efficacy while minimizing off-target effects. Here, using longitudinal intravital imaging of a Rac1-Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) biosensor mouse coupled with in vivo photoswitching to track intratumoral movement, we help guide treatment scheduling in a live breast cancer setting to impair metastatic progression. We uncover altered Rac1 activity at the center versus invasive border of tumors and demonstrate enhanced Rac1 activity of cells in close proximity to live tumor vasculature using optical window imaging. We further reveal that Rac1 inhibition can enhance tumor cell vulnerability to fluid-flow-induced shear stress and therefore improves overall anti-metastatic response to therapy during transit to secondary sites such as the lung. Collectively, this study demonstrates the utility of single-cell intravital imaging in vivo to demonstrate that Rac1 inhibition can reduce tumor progression and metastases in an autochthonous setting to improve overall survival.
The Human Developmental Cell Atlas (HDCA) initiative, which is part of the Human Cell Atlas, aims to create a comprehensive reference map of cells during development. This will be critical to understanding normal organogenesis, the effect of mutations, environmental factors and infectious agents on human development, congenital and childhood disorders, and the cellular basis of ageing, cancer and regenerative medicine. Here we outline the HDCA initiative and the challenges of mapping and modelling human development using state-of-the-art technologies to create a reference atlas across gestation. Similar to the Human Genome Project, the HDCA will integrate the output from a growing community of scientists who are mapping human development into a unified atlas. We describe the early milestones that have been achieved and the use of human stem-cell-derived cultures, organoids and animal models to inform the HDCA, especially for prenatal tissues that are hard to acquire. Finally, we provide a roadmap towards a complete atlas of human development.
Molecular profiling of single cells has advanced our knowledge of the molecular basis of development. However, current approaches mostly rely on dissociating cells from tissues, thereby losing the crucial spatial context of regulatory processes. Here, we apply an image-based single-cell transcriptomics method, sequential fluorescence in situ hybridization (seqFISH), to detect mRNAs for 387 target genes in tissue sections of mouse embryos at the 8-12 somite stage. By integrating spatial context and multiplexed transcriptional measurements with two single-cell transcriptome atlases, we characterize cell types across the embryo and demonstrate that spatially resolved expression of genes not profiled by seqFISH can be imputed. We use this high-resolution spatial map to characterize fundamental steps in the patterning of the midbrain-hindbrain boundary (MHB) and the developing gut tube. We uncover axes of cell differentiation that are not apparent from single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) data, such as early dorsal-ventral separation of esophageal and tracheal progenitor populations in the gut tube. Our method provides an approach for studying cell fate decisions in complex tissues and development.
The histone modification H3K27me3 plays a central role in Polycomb-mediated epigenetic silencing. H3K27me3 recruits and allosterically activates Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), which adds this modification to nearby histones, providing a read/write mechanism for inheritance through DNA replication. However, for some PRC2 targets, a purely histone-based system for epigenetic inheritance may be insufficient. We address this issue at the Polycomb target in , as a narrow nucleation region of only ~three nucleosomes within mediates epigenetic state switching and subsequent memory over many cell cycles. To explain the memory's unexpected persistence, we introduce a mathematical model incorporating extra protein memory storage elements with positive feedback that persist at the locus through DNA replication, in addition to histone modifications. Our hybrid model explains many features of epigenetic switching/memory at and encapsulates generic mechanisms that may be widely applicable.
The signalling pathways that maintain primed human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have been well characterised, revealing a critical role for TGFβ/Activin/Nodal signalling. In contrast, the signalling requirements of naive human pluripotency have not been fully established. Here, we demonstrate that TGFβ signalling is required to maintain naive hPSCs. The downstream effector proteins - SMAD2/3 - bind common sites in naive and primed hPSCs, including shared pluripotency genes. In naive hPSCs, SMAD2/3 additionally bind to active regulatory regions near to naive pluripotency genes. Inhibiting TGFβ signalling in naive hPSCs causes the downregulation of SMAD2/3-target genes and pluripotency exit. Single-cell analyses reveal that naive and primed hPSCs follow different transcriptional trajectories after inhibition of TGFβ signalling. Primed hPSCs differentiate into neuroectoderm cells, whereas naive hPSCs transition into trophectoderm. These results establish that there is a continuum for TGFβ pathway function in human pluripotency spanning a developmental window from naive to primed states.
Autophagy is a core molecular pathway for the preservation of cellular and organismal homeostasis. Pharmacological and genetic interventions impairing autophagy responses promote or aggravate disease in a plethora of experimental models. Consistently, mutations in autophagy-related processes cause severe human pathologies. Here, we review and discuss preclinical data linking autophagy dysfunction to the pathogenesis of major human disorders including cancer as well as cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, metabolic, pulmonary, renal, infectious, musculoskeletal, and ocular disorders.
Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic marking process that results in the monoallelic expression of a subset of genes. Many of these 'imprinted' genes in mice and humans are involved in embryonic and extraembryonic growth and development, and some have life-long impacts on metabolism. During mammalian development, the genome undergoes waves of (re)programming of DNA methylation and other epigenetic marks. Disturbances in these events can cause imprinting disorders and compromise development. Multi-locus imprinting disturbance (MLID) is a condition by which imprinting defects touch more than one locus. Although most cases with MLID present with clinical features characteristic of one imprinting disorder. Imprinting defects also occur in 'molar' pregnancies-which are characterized by highly compromised embryonic development-and in other forms of reproductive compromise presenting clinically as infertility or early pregnancy loss. Pathogenic variants in some of the genes encoding proteins of the subcortical maternal complex (SCMC), a multi-protein complex in the mammalian oocyte, are responsible for a rare subgroup of moles, biparental complete hydatidiform mole (BiCHM), and other adverse reproductive outcomes which have been associated with altered imprinting status of the oocyte, embryo and/or placenta. The finding that defects in a cytoplasmic protein complex could have severe impacts on genomic methylation at critical times in gamete or early embryo development has wider implications beyond these relatively rare disorders. It signifies a potential for adverse maternal physiology, nutrition, or assisted reproduction to cause epigenetic defects at imprinted or other genes. Here, we review key milestones in DNA methylation patterning in the female germline and the embryo focusing on humans. We provide an overview of recent findings regarding DNA methylation deficits causing BiCHM, MLID, and early embryonic arrest. We also summarize identified SCMC mutations with regard to early embryonic arrest, BiCHM, and MLID.
Perinatal mortality is a major issue in laboratory mouse breeding. We compared a counting method using daily checks (DAILY_CHECK) with a method combining daily checks with detailed video analyses to detect cannibalisms (VIDEO_TRACK) for estimating the number of C57BL/6 pups that were born, that died and that were weaned in 193 litters from trios with (TRIO-OVERLAP) or without (TRIO-NO_OVERLAP) the presence of another litter. Linear mixed models were used at litter level. To understand whether cannibalism was associated with active killing (infanticide), we analysed VIDEO_TRACK recordings of 109 litters from TRIO-OVERLAP, TRIO-NO_OVERLAP or SOLO (single dams). We used Kaplan-Meier method and logistic regression at pup level. For DAILY_CHECK, the mean litter size was 35% smaller than for VIDEO_TRACK ( < 0.0001) and the number of dead pups was twice lower ( < 0.0001). The risk of pup loss was higher for TRIO-OVERLAP than TRIO-NO_OVERLAP ( < 0.0001). A high number of pup losses occurred between birth and the first cage check. Analyses of VIDEO_TRACK data indicated that pups were clearly dead at the start of most of the cannibalism events and infanticide was rare. As most pups die and disappear before the first cage check, many breeding facilities are likely to be unaware of their real rates of mouse pup mortality.
DDX3X is a ubiquitously expressed RNA helicase involved in multiple stages of RNA biogenesis. DDX3X is frequently mutated in Burkitt lymphoma, but the functional basis for this is unknown. Here, we show that loss-of-function DDX3X mutations are also enriched in MYC-translocated diffuse large B cell lymphoma and reveal functional cooperation between mutant DDX3X and MYC. DDX3X promotes the translation of mRNA encoding components of the core translational machinery, thereby driving global protein synthesis. Loss-of-function DDX3X mutations moderate MYC-driven global protein synthesis, thereby buffering MYC-induced proteotoxic stress during early lymphomagenesis. Established lymphoma cells restore full protein synthetic capacity by aberrant expression of DDX3Y, a Y chromosome homolog, the expression of which is normally restricted to the testis. These findings show that DDX3X loss of function can buffer MYC-driven proteotoxic stress and highlight the capacity of male B cell lymphomas to then compensate for this loss by ectopic DDX3Y expression.
Development of cervical cancer is directly associated with integration of human papillomavirus (HPV) genomes into host chromosomes and subsequent modulation of HPV oncogene expression, which correlates with multi-layered epigenetic changes at the integrated HPV genomes. However, the process of integration itself and dysregulation of host gene expression at sites of integration in our model of HPV16 integrant clone natural selection has remained enigmatic. We now show, using a state-of-the-art 'HPV integrated site capture' (HISC) technique, that integration likely occurs through microhomology-mediated repair (MHMR) mechanisms via either a direct process, resulting in host sequence deletion (in our case, partially homozygously) or via a 'looping' mechanism by which flanking host regions become amplified. Furthermore, using our 'HPV16-specific Region Capture Hi-C' technique, we have determined that chromatin interactions between the integrated virus genome and host chromosomes, both at short- (<500 kbp) and long-range (>500 kbp), appear to drive local host gene dysregulation through the disruption of host:host interactions within (but not exceeding) host structures known as topologically associating domains (TADs). This mechanism of HPV-induced host gene expression modulation indicates that integration of virus genomes near to or within a 'cancer-causing gene' is not essential to influence their expression and that these modifications to genome interactions could have a major role in selection of HPV integrants at the early stage of cervical neoplastic progression.
CRISPR-Cas9 mutagenesis facilitates the investigation of gene function in a number of developmental and cellular contexts. Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), either embryonic or induced, are a tractable cellular model to investigate molecular mechanisms involved in early human development and cell fate decisions. hPSCs also have broad potential in regenerative medicine to model, investigate, and ameliorate diseases. Here, we provide an optimized protocol for efficient CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing of hPSCs to investigate the functional role of genes by engineering null mutations. We emphasize the importance of screening single guide RNAs (sgRNAs) to identify those with high targeting efficiency for generation of clonally derived null mutant hPSC lines. We provide important considerations for targeting genes that may have a role in hPSC maintenance. We also present methods to evaluate the on-target mutation spectrum and unintended karyotypic changes. © 2021 The Authors. Current Protocols published by Wiley Periodicals LLC. Basic Protocol 1: Selecting and ligating sgRNAs into expression plasmids Basic Protocol 2: Validation of sgRNA via in vitro transcription and cleavage assay Basic Protocol 3: Nucleofection of primed human embryonic stem cells Basic Protocol 4: MiSeq analysis of indel mutations Basic Protocol 5: Single cell cloning of targeted hPSCs Basic Protocol 6: Karyotyping of targeted hPSCs.