High-throughput functional characterization of combinations of transcriptional activators and repressors.
Despite growing knowledge of the functions of individual human transcriptional effector domains, much less is understood about how multiple effector domains within the same protein combine to regulate gene expression. Here, we measure transcriptional activity for 8,400 effector domain combinations by recruiting them to reporter genes in human cells. In our assay, weak and moderate activation domains synergize to drive strong gene expression, whereas combining strong activators often results in weaker activation. In contrast, repressors combine linearly and produce full gene silencing, and repressor domains often overpower activation domains. We use this information to build a synthetic transcription factor whose function can be tuned between repression and activation independent of recruitment to target genes by using a small-molecule drug. Altogether, we outline the basic principles of how effector domains combine to regulate gene expression and demonstrate their value in building precise and flexible synthetic biology tools. A record of this paper's transparent peer review process is included in the supplemental information.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cels.2023.07.001
View details for PubMedID 37543039
The circadian clock mediates daily bursts of cell differentiation by periodically restricting cell-differentiation commitment.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
2022; 119 (33): e2204470119
Most mammalian cells have an intrinsic circadian clock that coordinates metabolic activity with the daily rest and wake cycle. The circadian clock is known to regulate cell differentiation, but how continuous daily oscillations of the internal clock can control a much longer, multiday differentiation process is not known. Here, we simultaneously monitor circadian clock and adipocyte-differentiation progression live in single cells. Strikingly, we find a bursting behavior in the cell population whereby individual preadipocytes commit to differentiate primarily during a 12-h window each day, corresponding to the time of rest. Daily gating occurs because cells irreversibly commit to differentiate within only a few hours, which is much faster than the rest phase and the overall multiday differentiation process. The daily bursts in differentiation commitment result from a differentiation-stimulus driven variable and slow increase in expression of PPARG, the master regulator of adipogenesis, overlaid with circadian boosts in PPARG expression driven by fast, clock-driven PPARG regulators such as CEBPA. Our finding of daily bursts in cell differentiation only during the circadian cycle phase corresponding to evening in humans is broadly relevant, given that most differentiating somatic cells are regulated by the circadian clock. Having a restricted time each day when differentiation occurs may open therapeutic strategies to use timed treatment relative to the clock to promote tissue regeneration.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.2204470119
View details for PubMedID 35939672
Dynamic spreading of chromatin-mediated gene silencing and reactivation between neighboring genes in single cells.
In mammalian cells genes that are in close proximity can be transcriptionally coupled: silencing or activating one gene can affect its neighbors. Understanding these dynamics is important for natural processes, such as heterochromatin spreading during development and aging, and when designing synthetic gene regulation circuits. Here, we systematically dissect this process in single cells by recruiting and releasing repressive chromatin regulators at dual-gene synthetic reporters, and measuring how fast gene silencing and reactivation spread as a function of intergenic distance and configuration of insulator elements. We find that silencing by KRAB, associated with histone methylation, spreads between two genes within hours, with a time delay that increases with distance. This fast KRAB-mediated spreading is not blocked by the classical cHS4 insulators. Silencing by histone deacetylase HDAC4 of the upstream gene can also facilitate background silencing of the downstream gene by PRC2, but with a days-long delay that does not change with distance. This slower silencing can sometimes be stopped by insulators. Gene reactivation of neighboring genes is also coupled, with strong promoters and insulators determining the order of reactivation. Our data can be described by a model of multi-gene regulation that builds upon previous knowledge of heterochromatin spreading, where both gene silencing and gene reactivation can act at a distance, allowing for coordinated dynamics via chromatin regulator recruitment.
View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.75115
View details for PubMedID 35678392