Recent Publications

Nuclear compartments play diverse roles in regulating gene expression, yet the molecular forces and components driving compartment formation are not well understood. Studying how the lncRNA Xist establishes the inactive-X-chromosome (Xi)-compartment, we found that the Xist RNA-binding-proteins PTBP1, MATR3, TDP43, and CELF1 form a condensate to create an Xi-domain that can be sustained in the absence of Xist. The E-repeat-sequence of Xist serves a multivalent binding-platform for these proteins. Without the E-repeat, Xist initially coats the X-chromosome during XCI onset but subsequently disperses across the nucleus with loss of gene silencing. Recruitment of PTBP1, MATR3, TDP-43 or CELF1 to ΔE-Xist rescues these phenotypes, and requires both self-association of MATR3 and TDP-43 and a heterotypic PTBP1-MATR3-interaction. Together, our data reveal that Xist sequesters itself within the Xi-territory and perpetuates gene silencing by seeding a protein-condensate. Our findings uncover an unanticipated mechanism for epigenetic memory and elucidate the interplay between RNA and RNA-binding-proteins in creating compartments for gene regulation.

Periodic occurrences of oligonucleotide sequences can impact the physical properties of DNA. For example, DNA bendability is modulated by 10-bp periodic occurrences of WW (W = A/T) dinucleotides. We present periodicDNA, an R package to identify k-mer periodicity and generate continuous tracks of k-mer periodicity over genomic loci of interest, such as regulatory elements. periodicDNA will facilitate investigation and improve understanding of how periodic DNA sequence features impact function.

Despite increasingly detailed knowledge of gene expression patterns, the regulatory architectures that drive them are not well understood. To address this, we compared transcriptional and regulatory element activities across five adult tissues of C. elegans, covering ∼90% of cells, and defined regulatory grammars associated with ubiquitous, germline and somatic tissue-specific gene expression patterns. We find architectural features that distinguish two major promoter types. Germline-specific and ubiquitously-active promoters have well positioned +1 and −1 nucleosomes associated with a periodic 10-bp WW signal. Somatic tissue-specific promoters lack these features, have wider nucleosome depleted regions, and are more enriched for core promoter elements, which surprisingly differ between tissues. A 10-bp periodic WW signal is also associated with +1 nucleosomes of ubiquitous promoters in fly and zebrafish but is not detected in mouse and human. Our results demonstrate fundamental differences in regulatory architectures of germline-active and somatic tissue-specific genes and provide a key resource for future studies.

Cancer is characterized by genomic instability leading to deletion or amplification of oncogenes or tumor suppressors. However, most of the altered regions are devoid of known cancer drivers. Here, we identify lncRNAs frequently lost or amplified in cancer. Among them, we found amplified lncRNA associated with lung cancer-1 (ALAL-1) as frequently amplified in lung adenocarcinomas. ALAL-1 is also overexpressed in additional tumor types, such as lung squamous carcinoma. The RNA product of ALAL-1 is able to promote the proliferation and tumorigenicity of lung cancer cells. ALAL-1 is a TNFα- and NF-κB-induced cytoplasmic lncRNA that specifically interacts with SART3, regulating the subcellular localization of the protein deubiquitinase USP4 and, in turn, its function in the cell. Interestingly, ALAL-1 expression inversely correlates with the immune infiltration of lung squamous tumors, while tumors with ALAL-1 amplification show lower infiltration of several types of immune cells. We have thus unveiled a pro-oncogenic lncRNA that mediates cancer immune evasion, pointing to a new target for immune potentiation.

An essential step for understanding the transcriptional circuits that control development and physiology is the global identification and characterization of regulatory elements. Here we present the first map of regulatory elements across the development and ageing of an animal, identifying 42,245 elements accessible in at least one C. elegans stage. Based on nuclear transcription profiles, we define 15,714 protein-coding promoters and 19,231 putative enhancers, and find that both types of element can drive orientation-independent transcription. Additionally, hundreds of promoters produce transcripts antisense to protein coding genes, suggesting involvement in a widespread regulatory mechanism. We find that the accessibility of most elements is regulated during development and/or ageing and that patterns of accessibility change are linked to specific developmental or physiological processes. The map and characterization of regulatory elements across C. elegans life provides a platform for understanding how transcription controls development and ageing.

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RegAtlas

An atlas of regulatory elements in C. elegans