The goal of this research is to define chromatin mechanisms that control gene expression during development. Molecular, genetic, genomic, and biochemical methods will be used to study the Polycomb group (PcG) transcriptional repressors of Drosophila, which provide a premier model for revealing chromatin mechanisms in a developing organism. PcG silencing is performed by multiprotein complexes that selectively occupy genomic sites. The constituents and activities of two PcG complexes, called Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) and PRC2, are the best-defined. The focus of this work is on PRC2, which is a chromatin- modifying enzyme that methylates histone H3 on lysine 27 (K27). The trimethylated product, H3-K27me3, is a hallmark of transcriptionally silenced chromatin in genomes of higher eukaryotes. The PcG proteins, and the chromatin complexes they form, are highly conserved from flies to humans. Human PcG proteins play key roles in the transcriptional circuitry that controls pluripotency and differentiation of embryonic stem cells. They are also central regulators in adult tissue-specific stem cells, such as in skin, muscle and blood. Overabundance or hyperactivity of PcG proteins is implicated in leukemias and cancers of the breast, prostate, and other tissues. Their expanding importance in stem cell biology and cancer epigenetics underscores the need to understand basic PcG chromatin mechanisms. The main goals of this work are to determine mechanisms of PRC2 function and molecular roles of H3-K27 methylation in gene silencing. PRC2 has four core subunits, three of which are required for histone methyltransferase activity. The subunits contain key regulatory modules, including binding sites that detect chromatin features, that profoundly influence PRC2 activity.
One Aim will determine how critical subunit elements, located outside the catalytic center, control PRC2 function in vitro and in vivo.
A second Aim defines in vivo consequences of histone methylation at normal sites of PcG silencing and at naive sites not normally impacted by PcG machinery. The methods include loss-of-function and over-expression studies, site-directed mutagenesis, transgene manipulation, chromatin immuneprecipitation, protein purification, enzyme assays, chromosome immunostaining, and targeted genomic modifications. Fulfillment of these Aims should advance knowledge of basic PcG mechanisms in gene silencing and also of epigenetic processes that control human stem cell fates and that underlie certain human cancers.

Public Health Relevance

This research is to determine how a set of highly conserved regulatory proteins, called Polycomb group (PcG) proteins, turn genes off during animal development. In humans, PcG proteins are critical regulators in embryonic stem cells and adult tissue stem cells and they are implicated in breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukemias, and cancers of other tissues. This research will advance basic understanding of gene regulatory mechanisms and provide knowledge that could impact stem cell applications in medicine and development of anti-cancer strategies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-GGG-L (02))
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Carter, Anthony D
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Schools of Medicine
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Herzog, Veronika A; Lempradl, Adelheid; Trupke, Johanna et al. (2014) A strand-specific switch in noncoding transcription switches the function of a Polycomb/Trithorax response element. Nat Genet 46:973-981
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Rai, Aswathy N; Vargas, Marcus L; Wang, Liangjun et al. (2013) Elements of the polycomb repressor SU(Z)12 needed for histone H3-K27 methylation, the interface with E(Z), and in vivo function. Mol Cell Biol 33:4844-56
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Wang, Liangjun; Jahren, Neal; Vargas, Marcus L et al. (2006) Alternative ESC and ESC-like subunits of a polycomb group histone methyltransferase complex are differentially deployed during Drosophila development. Mol Cell Biol 26:2637-47
Ketel, Carrie S; Andersen, Erica F; Vargas, Marcus L et al. (2005) Subunit contributions to histone methyltransferase activities of fly and worm polycomb group complexes. Mol Cell Biol 25:6857-68

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