Klaus A Becker

University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, United States

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Publications (8)39.53 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Two striking features of human embryonic stem cells that support biological activity are an abbreviated cell cycle and reduced complexity to nuclear organization. The potential implications for rapid proliferation of human embryonic stem cells within the context of sustaining pluripotency, suppressing phenotypic gene expression and linkage to simplicity in the architectural compartmentalization of regulatory machinery in nuclear microenvironments is explored. Characterization of the molecular and architectural commitment steps that license human embryonic stem cells to initiate histone gene expression is providing understanding of the principal regulatory mechanisms that control the G1/S phase transition in primitive pluripotent cells. From both fundamental regulatory and clinical perspectives, further understanding of the pluripotent cell cycle in relation to compartmentalization of regulatory machinery in nuclear microenvironments is relevant to applications of stem cells for regenerative medicine and new dimensions to therapy where traditional drug discovery strategies have been minimally effective.
    Current pharmaceutical design 01/2012; 18(13):1679-85. · 4.41 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Self-renewal of pluripotent human embryonic stem (hES) cells utilizes an abbreviated cell cycle that bypasses E2F/pRB-dependent growth control. We investigated whether self-renewal is alternatively regulated by cyclin/CDK phosphorylation of the p220(NPAT)/HiNF-P complex to activate histone gene expression at the G1/S phase transition. We show that cyclin D2 is prominently expressed in pluripotent hES cells, but cyclin D1 eclipses cyclin D2 during differentiation. Depletion of cyclin D2 or p220(NPAT) causes a cell cycle defect in G1 reflected by diminished phosphorylation of p220(NPAT), decreased cell cycle dependent histone H4 expression and reduced S phase progression. Thus, cyclin D2 and p220(NPAT) are principal cell cycle regulators that determine competency for self-renewal in pluripotent hES cells. While pRB/E2F checkpoint control is relinquished in human ES cells, fidelity of physiological regulation is secured by cyclin D2 dependent activation of the p220(NPAT)/HiNF-P mechanism that may explain perpetual proliferation of hES cells without transformation or tumorigenesis.
    Journal of Cellular Physiology 11/2009; 222(2):456-64. · 4.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Self-renewal of human embryonic stem (hES) cells proceeds by a unique abbreviated cell cycle with a shortened G1 phase and distinctions in molecular cell cycle regulatory parameters. In this study, we show that early lineage-commitment of pluripotent hES cells modifies cell cycle kinetics. Human ES cells acquire a lengthened G1 within 72 h after lineage-programming is initiated, as reflected by loss of the pluripotency factor Oct4 and alterations in nuclear morphology. In hES cells that maintain the pristine pluripotent state, we find that autocrine mechanisms contribute to sustaining the abbreviated cell cycle. Our data show that naïve and mitotically synchronized pluripotent hES cells are competent to initiate two consecutive S phases in the absence of external growth factors. We conclude that short-term self-renewal of pluripotent hES cells occurs autonomously, in part due to secreted factors, and that pluripotency is functionally linked to the abbreviated hES cell cycle.
    Journal of Cellular Physiology 09/2009; 222(1):103-10. · 4.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Human embryonic stem (hES) cells have an abbreviated G(1) phase of the cell cycle. How cells expedite G(1) events that are required for the initiation of S phase has not been resolved. One key regulatory pathway that controls G(1)/S-phase transition is the cyclin E/CDK2-dependent activation of the coactivator protein nuclear protein, ataxia-telangiectasia locus/histone nuclear factor-P (p220(NPAT)/HiNF-P) complex that induces histone gene transcription. In this study, we use the subnuclear organization of factors controlling histone gene expression to define mechanistic differences in the G(1) phase of hES and somatic cells using in situ immunofluorescence microscopy and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). We show that histone gene expression is supported by the staged assembly and modification of a unique subnuclear structure that coordinates initiation and processing of transcripts originating from histone gene loci. Our results demonstrate that regulatory complexes that mediate transcriptional initiation (e.g., p220(NPAT)) and 3'-end processing (e.g., Lsm10, Lsm11, and SLBP) of histone gene transcripts colocalize at histone gene loci in dedicated subnuclear foci (histone locus bodies) that are distinct from Cajal bodies. Although appearance of CDK2-phosphorylated p220(NPAT) in these domains occurs at the time of S-phase entry, histone locus bodies are formed approximately 1 to 2 h before S phase in embryonic cells but 6 h before S phase in somatic cells. These temporal differences in the formation of histone locus bodies suggest that the G(1) phase of the cell cycle in hES cells is abbreviated in part by contraction of late G(1).
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 12/2008; 105(44):16964-9. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The clinical and research value of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) depends upon maintaining their epigenetically naïve, fully undifferentiated state. Inactivation of one X chromosome in each cell of mammalian female embryos is a paradigm for one of the earliest steps in cell specialization through formation of facultative heterochromatin. Mouse ES cells are derived from the inner cell mass (ICM) of blastocyst stage embryos prior to X-inactivation, and cultured murine ES cells initiate this process only upon differentiation. Less is known about human X-inactivation during early development. To identify a human ES cell model for X-inactivation and study differences in the epigenetic state of hESC lines, we investigated X-inactivation in all growth competent, karyotypically normal, NIH approved, female hESC lines and several sublines. In the vast majority of undifferentiated cultures of nine lines examined, essentially all cells exhibit hallmarks of X-inactivation. However, subcultures of any hESC line can vary in X-inactivation status, comprising distinct sublines. Importantly, we identified rare sublines that have not yet inactivated Xi and retain competence to undergo X-inactivation upon differentiation. Other sublines exhibit defects in counting or maintenance of XIST expression on Xi. The few hESC sublines identified that have not yet inactivated Xi may reflect the earlier epigenetic state of the human ICM and represent the most promising source of NIH hESC for study of human X-inactivation. The many epigenetic anomalies seen indicate that maintenance of fully unspecialized cells, which have not formed Xi facultative heterochromatin, is a delicate epigenetic balance difficult to maintain in culture.
    Journal of Cellular Physiology 09/2008; 216(2):445-52. · 4.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Human embryonic stem (ES) cells have an expedited cell cycle ( approximately 15 h) due to an abbreviated G1 phase ( approximately 2.5 h) relative to somatic cells. One principal regulatory event during cell cycle progression is the G1/S phase induction of histone biosynthesis to package newly replicated DNA. In somatic cells, histone H4 gene expression is controlled by CDK2 phosphorylation of p220(NPAT) and localization of HiNF-P/p220(NPAT) complexes with histone genes at Cajal body related subnuclear foci. Here we show that this 'S point' pathway is operative in situ in human ES cells (H9 cells; NIH-designated WA09). Immunofluorescence microscopy shows an increase in p220(NPAT) foci in G1 reflecting the assembly of histone gene regulatory complexes in situ. In contrast to somatic cells where duplication of p220(NPAT) foci is evident in S phase, the increase in the number of p220(NPAT) foci in ES cells appears to precede the onset of DNA synthesis as measured by BrdU incorporation. Phosphorylation of p220(NPAT) at CDK dependent epitopes is most pronounced in S phase when cells exhibit elevated levels of cyclins E and A. Our data indicate that subnuclear organization of the HiNF-P/p220(NPAT) pathway is rapidly established as ES cells emerge from mitosis and that p220(NPAT) is subsequently phosphorylated in situ. Our findings establish that the HiNF-P/p220(NPAT) gene regulatory pathway operates in a cell cycle dependent microenvironment that supports expression of DNA replication-linked histone genes and chromatin assembly to accommodate human stem cell self-renewal.
    Journal of Cellular Physiology 11/2007; 213(1):9-17. · 4.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Rapid self-renewal of human embryonic stem (ES) cells (NIH designation WA01 and WA09) is accommodated by an abbreviated cell cycle due to a reduction in the G1 phase. Thus, molecular mechanisms operative in ES cells may expedite the cellular commitment to progress into S phase to initiate replication of DNA and biosynthesis of histone proteins to form new chromatin. Here we show that the selective cell cycle regulated expression of individual histone H4 gene copies, which is typical for somatic cell types, is already firmly established in human ES cells. This early establishment of H4 gene regulation, which is E2F independent, is consistent with co-expression of the cognate transcriptional regulators HiNF-P and p220(NPAT). Human ES cells differ from somatic cells in the expression of members of the E2F family and RB-related pocket proteins (p105(RB1), p107(RBL1), and p130(RBL2/RB2)) that control expression of genes encoding enzymes for nucleotide metabolism and DNA synthesis. Human ES cells rapidly and robustly (>200-fold) induce the cyclin dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor p21(WAF1/CIP1) upon gamma-irradiation. This DNA damage response promptly reduces histone gene expression as well as mRNA levels for HiNF-P and p220(NPAT) and causes accumulation of unprocessed histone H4 precursor RNAs. Furthermore, while E2F4, E2F5 and p130(RBL2/RB2) are the major E2F and pocket protein mRNAs in actively proliferating ES cells, expression levels of E2F5, E2F6, and p105(RB1) are most strongly elevated during cell cycle arrest in cells responding to DNA damage. Our data suggest that the brief G1 phase of ES cells is supported by a potent p21(WAF1/CIP1) related DNA damage response that functions through several mechanisms to rapidly inhibit cell cycle progression. This response may alter the E2F/pocket protein combinations that control E2F dependent genes and block H4 gene expression by inhibiting histone-specific transcription factors and processing of histone gene transcripts, as well as by destabilizing histone mRNAs.
    Journal of Cellular Physiology 03/2007; 210(2):517-26. · 4.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Competency for self-renewal of human embryonic stem (ES) cells is linked to pluripotency. However, there is a critical paucity of fundamental parameters of human ES cell division. In this study we show that human ES cells (H1 and H9; NIH-designated WA01 and WA09) rapidly proliferate due to a very short overall cell cycle (15-16 h) compared to somatic cells (e.g., normal diploid IMR90 fibroblasts and NT-2 teratocarcinoma cells). The human ES cell cycle maintains the four canonical cell cycle stages G1, S, G2, and M, but the duration of G1 is dramatically shortened. Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation and FACS analysis demonstrated that 65% of asynchronously growing human ES cells are in S phase. Immunofluorescence microscopy studies detecting BrdU labeled mitotic chromosomes, Ki67 domains, and p220(NPAT) containing Cajal bodies revealed that the durations of the S ( approximately 8 h), G2 ( approximately 4 h), and M phases ( approximately 1 h) are similar in ES and somatic cells. We determined that human ES cells remain viable after synchronization with either nocodazole or the anti-tumor drug Paclitaxel (taxol) and have an abbreviated G1 phase of only 2.5-3 h that is significantly shorter than in somatic cells. Molecular analyses using quantitative RT-PCR demonstrate that human ES cells and somatic cells express similar cell cycle markers. However, among cyclins and cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), we observed high mRNA levels for the G1-related CDK4 and cyclin D2 genes. We conclude that human ES cells exhibit unique G1 cell cycle kinetics and use CDK4/cyclin D2 related mechanisms to attain competency for DNA replication.
    Journal of Cellular Physiology 01/2007; 209(3):883-93. · 4.22 Impact Factor