School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne 1015, Switzerland. School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne 1015, Switzerland; Department of Genetics and Evol...
Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland. School of Life Sciences, Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland. School of Life Sciences, Federal In...
The evolution of tetrapod limbs from fish fins enabled the conquest of land by vertebrates and thus represents a key step in evolution. Despite the use of comparative gene expression analyses, critical aspects of this transformation remain controversial, in particular the origin of digits. Hoxa and Hoxd genes are essential for the specification of the different limb segments and their functional abrogation leads to large truncations of the appendages. Here we show that the selective transcription of mouse Hoxa genes in proximal and distal limbs is related to a bimodal higher order chromatin structure, similar to that reported for Hoxd genes, thus revealing a generic regulatory strategy implemented by both gene clusters during limb development. We found the same bimodal chromatin architecture in fish embryos, indicating that the regulatory mechanism used to pattern tetrapod limbs may predate the divergence between fish and tetrapods. However, when assessed in mice, both fish regulatory landscapes triggered transcription in proximal rather than distal limb territories, supporting an evolutionary scenario whereby digits arose as tetrapod novelties through genetic retrofitting of preexisting regulatory landscapes. We discuss the possibility to consider regulatory circuitries, rather than expression patterns, as essential parameters to define evolutionary synapomorphies.
National Research Center 'Frontiers in Genetics', Geneva, Switzerland ; School of Life Sciences, Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.
Polycomb group (PcG) proteins are essential for the repression of key factors during early development. In Drosophila, the polycomb repressive complexes (PRC) associate with defined polycomb response DNA elements (PREs). In mammals, however, the mechanisms underlying polycomb recruitment at targeted loci are poorly understood. We have used an in vivo approach to identify DNA sequences of importance for the proper recruitment of polycomb proteins at the HoxD locus. We report that various genomic re-arrangements of the gene cluster do not strongly affect PRC2 recruitment and that relatively small polycomb interacting sequences appear necessary and sufficient to confer polycomb recognition and targeting to ectopic loci. In addition, a high GC content, while not sufficient to recruit PRC2, may help its local spreading. We discuss the importance of PRC2 recruitment over Hox gene clusters in embryonic stem cells, for their subsequent coordinated transcriptional activation during development.
Hubrecht Institute-KNAW and University Medical Center Utrecht, Uppsalalaan 8, 3584 CT, Utrecht, the Netherlands.
How a complex animal can arise from a fertilized egg is one of the oldest and most fascinating questions of biology, the answer to which is encoded in the genome. Body shape and organ development, and their integration into a functional organism all depend on the precise expression of genes in space and time. The orchestration of transcription relies mostly on surrounding control sequences such as enhancers, millions of which form complex regulatory landscapes in the non-coding genome. Recent research shows that high-order chromosome structures make an important contribution to enhancer functionality by triggering their physical interactions with target genes.
School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne CH-1015, Switzerland.
Hox genes are required for the development of the intestinal cecum, a major organ of plant-eating species. We have analyzed the transcriptional regulation of Hoxd genes in cecal buds and show that they are controlled by a series of enhancers located in a gene desert flanking the HoxD cluster. The start site of two opposite long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), Hotdog and Twin of Hotdog, selectively contacts the expressed Hoxd genes in the framework of a topological domain, coinciding with robust transcription of these genes during cecum budding. Both lncRNAs are specifically transcribed in the cecum, albeit bearing no detectable function in trans. Hedgehogs have kept this regulatory potential despite the absence of the cecum, suggesting that these mechanisms are used in other developmental situations. In this context, we discuss the implementation of a common "budding toolkit" between the cecum and the limbs.
National Research Centre Frontiers in Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Frale (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.
Developmentally regulated genes are often controlled by distant enhancers, silencers and insulators, to implement their correct transcriptional programs. In recent years, the development of 3C and derived techniques (4C, 5C, HiC, ChIA-PET, etc.) has confirmed that chromatin looping is an important mechanism for the transfer of regulatory information in mammalian cells. At many developmentally regulated gene loci, transcriptional activation is indeed accompanied by the formation of chromatin loops between genes and distant enhancers. Similarly, dynamic looping between insulator elements and changes in local 3D organization may be observed upon variation in transcriptional activity. Chromatin looping also occurs at silent gene loci, where its function remains less understood. In lineage-committed cells, partial 3D configurations are detected at loci that are activated at later stages. However, these partial configurations usually lack promoter-enhancer loops that accompany transcriptional activation, suggesting they have structural functions. Definitive evidence for a repressive role of chromatin looping is still lacking. Chromatin loops have been reported at repressed loci but, alternatively, they may act as a distraction for active loops. Together, these mechanisms allow fine-tuning of regulatory programs, thus providing further diversity in the transcriptional control of developmentally regulated gene loci. WIREs Dev Biol 2013, 2:615-630. doi: 10.1002/wdev.103 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website. The authors declare no conflict of interest.
School of Life Sciences, Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) Lausanne, Switzerland.
The evolution of chordates was accompanied by critical anatomical innovations in craniofacial development, along with the emergence of neural crest cells. The potential of these cells to implement a craniofacial program in part depends upon the (non-)expression of Hox genes. For instance, the development of jaws requires the inhibition of Hox genes function in the first pharyngeal arch. In contrast, Hox gene products induce craniofacial structures in more caudal territories. To further investigate which Hox gene clusters are involved in this latter role, we generated HoxA;HoxB cluster double mutant animals in cranial neural crest cells. We observed the appearance of a supernumerary dentary-like bone with an endochondral ossification around a neo-Meckel's cartilage matrix and an attachment of neo-muscle demonstrating that HoxB genes enhance the phenotype induced by the deletion of the HoxA cluster alone. In addition, a cervical and hypertrophic thymus was associated with the supernumerary dentary-like bone, which may reflect its ancestral position near the filtrating system. Altogether these results show that the HoxA and HoxB clusters cooperated during evolution to lead to present craniofacial diversity.
School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
When positioned into the integrin alpha-6 gene, an Hoxd9lacZ reporter transgene displayed parental imprinting in mouse embryos. While the expression from the paternal allele was comparable with patterns seen for the same transgene when present at the neighboring HoxD locus, almost no signal was scored at this integration site when the transgene was inherited from the mother, although the Itga6 locus itself is not imprinted. The transgene exhibited maternal allele-specific DNA hypermethylation acquired during oogenesis, and its expression silencing was reversible on passage through the male germ line. Histone modifications also corresponded to profiles described at known imprinted loci. Chromosome conformation analyses revealed distinct chromatin microarchitectures, with a more compact structure characterizing the maternally inherited repressed allele. Such genetic analyses of well-characterized transgene insertions associated with a de novo-induced parental imprint may help us understand the molecular determinants of imprinting.
School of Life Sciences, Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
Hox genes are major determinants of the animal body plan, where they organize structures along both the trunk and appendicular axes. During mouse limb development, Hoxd genes are transcribed in two waves: early on, when the arm and forearm are specified, and later, when digits form. The transition between early and late regulations involves a functional switch between two opposite topological domains. This switch is reflected by a subset of Hoxd genes mapping centrally into the cluster, which initially interact with the telomeric domain and subsequently swing toward the centromeric domain, where they establish new contacts. This transition between independent regulatory landscapes illustrates both the modularity of the limbs and the distinct evolutionary histories of its various pieces. It also allows the formation of an intermediate area of low HOX proteins content, which develops into the wrist, the transition between our arms and our hands. This regulatory strategy accounts for collinear Hox gene regulation in land vertebrate appendages.
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, 2780-156 Oeiras, Portugal.
Patterning of the vertebrate skeleton requires the coordinated activity of Hox genes. In particular, Hox10 proteins are essential to set the transition from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae because of their rib-repressing activity. In snakes, however, the thoracic region extends well into Hox10-expressing areas of the embryo, suggesting that these proteins are unable to block rib formation. Here, we show that this is not a result of the loss of rib-repressing properties by the snake proteins, but rather to a single base pair change in a Hox/Paired box (Pax)-responsive enhancer, which prevents the binding of Hox proteins. This polymorphism is also found in Paenungulata, such as elephants and manatees, which have extended rib cages. In vivo, this modified enhancer failed to respond to Hox10 activity, supporting its role in the extension of rib cages. In contrast, the enhancer could still interact with Hoxb6 and Pax3 to promote rib formation. These results suggest that a polymorphism in the Hox/Pax-responsive enhancer may have played a role in the evolution of the vertebrate spine by differently modulating its response to rib-suppressing and rib-promoting Hox proteins.