Rare event of histone demethylation can initiate singular gene expression of olfactory receptors.
ABSTRACT Mammals sense odors through the gene family of olfactory receptors (ORs). Despite the enormous number of OR genes (∼1,400 in mouse), each olfactory sensory neuron expresses one, and only one, of them. In neurobiology, it remains a long-standing mystery how this singularity can be achieved despite intrinsic stochasticity of gene expression. Recent experiments showed an epigenetic mechanism for maintaining singular OR expression: Once any ORs are activated, their expression inhibits further OR activation by down-regulating a histone demethylase Lsd1 (also known as Aof2 or Kdm1a), an enzyme required for the removal of the repressive histone marker H3K9me3 on OR genes. However, it remains unclear at a quantitative level how singularity can be initiated in the first place. In particular, does a simple activation/feedback scheme suffice to generate singularity? Here we show theoretically that rare events of histone demethylation can indeed produce robust singularity by separating two timescales: slow OR activation by stepwise H3K9me3 demethylation, and fast feedback to turn off Lsd1. Given a typical 1-h response of transcriptional feedback, to achieve the observed extent of singularity (only 2% of neurons express more than one ORs), we predict that OR activation must be as slow as 5-10 d-a timescale compatible with experiments. Our model further suggests H3K9me3-to-H3K9me2 demethylation as an additional rate-limiting step responsible for OR singularity. Our conclusions may be generally applicable to other systems where monoallelic expression is desired, and provide guidelines for the design of a synthetic system of singular expression.
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ABSTRACT: An astounding property of the nervous system is its cellular diversity. This diversity, which was initially realized by morphological and electrophysiological differences, is ultimately produced by variations in gene-expression programs. In most cases, these variations are determined by external cues. However, a growing number of neuronal types have been identified in which inductive signals cannot explain the few but decisive transcriptional differences that cause cell diversification. Here, we show that heterochromatic silencing, which we find is governed by histone methyltransferases G9a (KMT1C) and GLP (KMT1D), is essential for stochastic and singular olfactory receptor (OR) expression. Deletion of G9a and GLP dramatically reduces the complexity of the OR transcriptome, resulting in transcriptional domination by a few ORs and loss of singularity in OR expression. Thus, our data suggest that, in addition to its previously known functions, heterochromatin creates an epigenetic platform that affords stochastic, mutually exclusive gene choices and promotes cellular diversity.Cell Reports 11/2014; 9(3):884-92. DOI:10.1016/j.celrep.2014.10.001 · 7.21 Impact Factor