staff

Aurélie Hintermann

Postdoctoral fellow in Developmental Genomics

  • T: +41 22 379 69 01
  • office 4009 (Sciences III)
  • Developmental and evolutionary comparative analysis of a regulatory landscape in mouse and chicken. Development 2022 Jun;149(12):. 275867. 10.1242/dev.200594.

    abstract

    Modifications in gene regulation are driving forces in the evolution of organisms. Part of these changes involve cis-regulatory elements (CREs), which contact their target genes through higher-order chromatin structures. However, how such architectures and variations in CREs contribute to transcriptional evolvability remains elusive. We use Hoxd genes as a paradigm for the emergence of regulatory innovations, as many relevant enhancers are located in a regulatory landscape highly conserved in amniotes. Here, we analysed their regulation in murine vibrissae and chicken feather primordia, two skin appendages expressing different Hoxd gene subsets, and compared the regulation of these genes in these appendages with that in the elongation of the posterior trunk. In the two former structures, distinct subsets of Hoxd genes are contacted by different lineage-specific enhancers, probably as a result of using an ancestral chromatin topology as an evolutionary playground, whereas the gene regulation that occurs in the mouse and chicken embryonic trunk partially relies on conserved CREs. A high proportion of these non-coding sequences active in the trunk have functionally diverged between species, suggesting that transcriptional robustness is maintained, despite considerable divergence in enhancer sequences.

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  • Context-dependent enhancer function revealed by targeted inter-TAD relocation. Nat Commun 2022 Jun;13(1):3488. 10.1038/s41467-022-31241-3. 10.1038/s41467-022-31241-3.

    abstract

    The expression of some genes depends on large, adjacent regions of the genome that contain multiple enhancers. These regulatory landscapes frequently align with Topologically Associating Domains (TADs), where they integrate the function of multiple similar enhancers to produce a global, TAD-specific regulation. We asked if an individual enhancer could overcome the influence of one of these landscapes, to drive gene transcription. To test this, we transferred an enhancer from its native location, into a nearby TAD with a related yet different functional specificity. We used the biphasic regulation of Hoxd genes during limb development as a paradigm. These genes are first activated in proximal limb cells by enhancers located in one TAD, which is then silenced when the neighboring TAD activates its enhancers in distal limb cells. We transferred a distal limb enhancer into the proximal limb TAD and found that its new context suppresses its normal distal specificity, even though it is bound by HOX13 transcription factors, which are responsible for the distal activity. This activity can be rescued only when a large portion of the surrounding environment is removed. These results indicate that, at least in some cases, the functioning of enhancer elements is subordinated to the host chromatin context, which can exert a dominant control over its activity.

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  • Analysis of Polycerate Mutants Reveals the Evolutionary Co-option of HOXD1 for Horn Patterning in Bovidae. Mol Biol Evol 2021 Feb;():. 6126410. 10.1093/molbev/msab021.

    abstract

    In the course of evolution, pecorans (i.e. higher ruminants) developed a remarkable diversity of osseous cranial appendages, collectively referred to as 'headgear', which likely share the same origin and genetic basis. However, the nature and function of the genetic determinants underlying their number and position remain elusive. Jacob and other rare populations of sheep and goats are characterized by polyceraty, the presence of more than two horns. Here, we characterize distinct POLYCERATE alleles in each species, both associated with defective HOXD1 function. We show that haploinsufficiency at this locus results in the splitting of horn bud primordia, likely following the abnormal extension of an initial morphogenetic field. These results highlight the key role played by this gene in headgear patterning and illustrate the evolutionary co-option of a gene involved in the early development of bilateria to properly fix the position and number of these distinctive organs of Bovidae.

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