The maternal to zygotic transition is a universal step in animal development, where the embryo transitions from a maternally driven program to a zygotic program. This requires the clearance of the maternally provided mRNAs, and transcription of the zygotic genes. Indeed, these two processes are intimately interconnected, maternal factors drive the activation of the zygotic genes, and zygotic products actively target maternal mRNAs for deadenylation, repression and clearance. While recent studies have identified individual factors regulating mRNA stability and activation of the zygotic genome, we lack major understanding on 1) how different regulatory mechanisms are integrated to instruct mRNA turn over and translation regulation in the embryo, 2) what are the mechanisms that regulate protein output and genome activation, and 3) what is the regulatory code (sequences, structures and RNA modifications) that shape genome activation and post-trasncriptional regulation. By combining high throughput sequencing, protein-RNA interaction maps, with novel methods to assay the regulatory activity of the transcriptome in the early embryo, we will define the factors that are recruited to the genome to activate the zygotic program, the mechanisms that activate the chromatin, the sequence/structural motifs (code) that determine maternal mRNA fate, the readers that interpret the code and the mechanisms that trigger each of these steps in vivo. Together these proposed experiments, will define the gene regulatory network that controls early vertebrate development. The proposed project is relevant for public health at different levels. First, from the stand point of human disease and cancer, pathways that control mRNA stability (including miRNAs) play an important role in aberrant oncogene activation in cancer, and are relevant to changes in cell fate where the cells need to install a new program and remove the previous cellular program through post-transcriptional regulation. Second, from the stand point of reproductive health, infertility is estimated to affect 15% of reproductive age women and early pregnancy loss corresponds to 25% of all pregnancies with up to 70% in pregnancies after in vitro fertilization. Understanding of the mechanisms of zygotic genome activation and maternal mRNA decay can provide fundamental insights in human infertility and tools to evaluate early loss of fertilized eggs. The results derived from this project will help us understand how gene expression is regulated in the early embryo during the maternal to zygotic transition to ultimately trigger the activation of the different developmental pathways during embryogenesis.
In all animals, the fertilized egg depend on the ?instructions? provided by the mom to the egg to undergo the first hours of development. Upon fertilization the egg undergo two universally conserved steps. First, it needs to activate the expression of its own instructions (genome), and second, it needs to eliminate the maternal instructions (mRNAs and proteins) to proceed into advanced development. This proposal studies how the vertebrate embryos organizes multiple players to undertake these tasks, with the goal of understanding basic conserved principles of how genes are regulated that can be applied to other systems, including reprogramming of the cellular fates and cancer.
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