[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: ERK1/2 MAP kinase exhibits a highly dynamic activation pattern in developing embryos, which largely depends on fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signals. In ascidian embryos, FGF-dependent activation of ERK1/2 occurs differentially between sister cells during marginal zone and neural lineage patterning. Selective attenuation of FGF signals by localised ephrin/Eph signals accounts for this differential ERK activation, which controls the binary fate choice of each sibling cell pair. Here, we show that p120 Ras GTPase-activating protein (p120RasGAP) is a crucial mediator of these ephrin/Eph signals. First, inhibition of p120RasGAP has a similar effect to inhibition of ephrin/Eph function during marginal zone and neural patterning. Second, p120RasGAP acts epistatically to ephrin/Eph signals. Third, p120RasGAP physically associates with Eph3 in an ephrin-dependent manner. This study provides the first in vivo evidence that the functional association between Eph and RasGAP controls the spatial extent of FGF-activated ERK.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Transcription is commonly held to be a highly stochastic process, resulting in considerable heterogeneity of gene expression among the different cells in a population. Here, we employ quantitative in situ hybridization methods coupled with high-resolution imaging assays to measure the expression of snail, a developmental patterning gene necessary for coordinating the invagination of the mesoderm during gastrulation of the Drosophila embryo. Our measurements of steady-state mRNAs suggest that there is very little variation in snail expression across the different cells that make up the mesoderm and that synthesis approaches the kinetic limits of Pol II processivity. We propose that rapid transcription kinetics and negative autoregulation are responsible for the remarkable homogeneity of snail expression and the coordination of mesoderm invagination.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Neural crest arises at the neural plate border, expresses a core set of regulatory genes and produces a diverse array of cell types, including ectomesenchyme derivatives that elaborate the vertebrate head. The evolution of neural crest has been proposed to be a key event leading to the appearance of new cell types that fostered the transition from filter feeding to active predation in ancestral vertebrates. However, the origin of neural crest remains controversial, as homologous cell types have not been unambiguously identified in non-vertebrate chordates. Here we show that the tunicate Ciona intestinalis possesses a cephalic melanocyte lineage (a9.49) similar to neural crest that can be reprogrammed into migrating 'ectomesenchyme' by the targeted misexpression of Twist (also known as twist-like 2). Our results suggest that the neural crest melanocyte regulatory network pre-dated the divergence of tunicates and vertebrates. We propose that the co-option of mesenchyme determinants, such as Twist, into the neural plate ectoderm was crucial to the emergence of the vertebrate 'new head'.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Activation of the gap gene hunchback (hb) by the maternal Bicoid gradient is one of the most intensively studied gene regulatory interactions in animal development. Most efforts to understand this process have focused on the classical Bicoid target enhancer located immediately upstream of the P2 promoter [1-12]. However, hb is also regulated by a recently identified distal shadow enhancer as well as a neglected "stripe" enhancer, which mediates expression in both central and posterior regions of cellularizing embryos [13, 14]. Here, we employ BAC transgenesis and quantitative imaging methods to investigate the individual contributions of these different enhancers to the dynamic hb expression pattern. These studies reveal that the stripe enhancer is crucial for establishing the definitive border of the anterior Hb expression pattern, just beyond the initial border delineated by Bicoid. Removal of this enhancer impairs dynamic expansion of hb expression and results in variable cuticular defects in the mesothorax (T2) due to abnormal patterns of segmentation gene expression. The stripe enhancer is subject to extensive regulation by gap repressors, including Kruppel, Knirps, and Hb itself. We propose that this repression helps ensure precision of the anterior Hb border in response to variations in the Bicoid gradient.
Current biology: CB 10/2012; · 10.99 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Post-transcriptional gene regulation is prevalent in the nervous system, where multiple tiers of regulatory complexity contribute to the development and function of highly specialized cell types. Whole-genome studies in Drosophila have identified several hundred genes containing long 3' extensions in neural tissues. We show that ELAV (embryonic-lethal abnormal visual system) is a key mediator of these neural-specific extensions. Misexpression of ELAV results in the ectopic synthesis of long messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in transgenic embryos. RNA immunoprecipitation assays suggest that ELAV directly binds the proximal polyadenylation signals of many target mRNAs. Finally, ELAV is sufficient to suppress 3' end formation at a strong polyadenylation signal when tethered to a synthetic RNA. We propose that this mechanism for coordinating 3' UTR extension may be generally used in a variety of cellular processes.
Genes & development 09/2012; 26(20):2259-64. · 12.08 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Transcriptional repressors are thought to inhibit gene expression by interfering with the binding or function of RNA Polymerase II, perhaps by promoting local chromatin condensation. Here, we present evidence for a distinctive mechanism of repression, whereby sequence-specific repressors prevent the looping of distal enhancers to the promoter. Particular efforts focus on the Snail repressor, which plays a conserved role in promoting epithelial-mesenchyme transitions in both invertebrates and vertebrates, including mesoderm invagination in Drosophila, neural crest migration in vertebrates, and tumorigenesis in mammals. Chromosome conformation capture experiments were used to examine enhancer looping at Snail target genes in wild-type and mutant embryos. These studies suggest that the Snail repressor blocks the formation of fruitful enhancer-promoter interactions when bound to a distal enhancer. This higher-order mechanism of transcriptional repression has broad implications for the control of gene activity in metazoan development.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 05/2012; 109(24):9460-4. · 9.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Ciona tadpole is constructed from simple, well-defined cell lineages governed by provisional gene networks that have been defined via extensive gene disruption assays. Here, we examine the patterning of the anterior neural plate, which produces placodal derivatives such as the adhesive palps and stomodeum, as well as the sensory vesicle (simple brain) of the Ciona tadpole. Evidence is presented that the doublesex-related gene DMRT is expressed throughout the anterior neural plate of neurulating embryos. It leads to the activation of FoxC and ZicL in the palp placode and anterior neural tube, respectively. This differential expression depends on FGF signaling, which inhibits FoxC expression in the anterior neural tube. Inhibition of FGF signaling leads to expanded expression of FoxC, the loss of ZicL, and truncation of the anterior neural tube.
Development 05/2012; 139(13):2351-9. · 6.60 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Enhancers mediate localized patterns of gene expression during development. A common feature of "traditional" enhancers is the presence of clustered binding motifs for sequence-specific transcription factors (TFs). In this issue of Genes & Development, Kvon and colleagues (pp. 908-913) present new evidence that HOT (highly occupied transcription) DNAs direct specific patterns of gene expression, despite being depleted for TF-binding motifs.
Genes & development 05/2012; 26(9):873-6. · 12.08 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We review recently identified mechanisms of transcriptional control that ensure reliable and reproducible patterns of gene expression in natural populations of developing embryos, despite inherent fluctuations in gene regulatory processes, variations in genetic backgrounds and exposure to diverse environmental conditions. These mechanisms are not responsible for switching genes on and off. Instead, they control the fine-tuning of gene expression and ensure regulatory precision. Several such mechanisms are discussed, including redundant binding sites within transcriptional enhancers, shadow enhancers, and 'poised' enhancers and promoters, as well as the role of 'redundant' gene interactions within regulatory networks. We propose that such regulatory mechanisms provide population fitness and 'fine-tune' the spatial and temporal control of gene expression.
Trends in Genetics 04/2012; 28(8):409-16. · 9.77 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The motor ganglion (MG) controls the rhythmic swimming behavior of the Ciona intestinalis tadpole. Despite its cellular simplicity (five pairs of neurons), the MG exhibits conservation of transcription factor expression with the spinal cord of vertebrates. Evidence is presented that the developing MG is patterned by sequential Ephrin/FGF/MAPK and Delta/Notch signaling events. FGF/MAPK attenuation by a localized EphrinAb signal specifies posterior neuronal subtypes, which in turn relay a Delta2/Notch signal that specifies anterior fates. This short-range relay is distinct from the patterning of the vertebrate spinal cord, which is a result of opposing BMP and Shh morphogen gradients. Nonetheless, both mechanisms lead to localized expression of related homeodomain codes for the specification of distinct neuronal subtypes. This MG regulatory network provides a foundation for elucidating the genetic and cellular basis of a model chordate central pattern generator.
Development 12/2011; 138(24):5429-39. · 6.60 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cholinergic motor neurons are defined by the coexpression of a battery of genes encoding proteins that act sequentially to synthesize, package and degrade acetylcholine and reuptake its breakdown product, choline. How expression of these critical motor neuron identity determinants is controlled and coordinated is not understood. We show here that, in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, all members of the cholinergic gene battery, as well as many other markers of terminal motor neuron fate, are co-regulated by a shared cis-regulatory signature and a common trans-acting factor, the phylogenetically conserved COE (Collier, Olf, EBF)-type transcription factor UNC-3. UNC-3 initiated and maintained expression of cholinergic fate markers and was sufficient to induce cholinergic fate in other neuron types. UNC-3 furthermore operated in negative feedforward loops to induce the expression of transcription factors that repress individual UNC-3-induced terminal fate markers, resulting in diversification of motor neuron differentiation programs in specific motor neuron subtypes. A chordate ortholog of UNC-3, Ciona intestinalis COE, was also both required and sufficient for inducing a cholinergic fate. Thus, UNC-3 is a terminal selector for cholinergic motor neuron differentiation whose function is conserved across phylogeny.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The development of the precellular Drosophila embryo is characterized by exceptionally rapid transitions in gene activity, with broadly distributed maternal regulatory gradients giving way to precise on/off patterns of gene expression within a one-hour window, between two and three hours after fertilization . Transcriptional repression plays a pivotal role in this process, delineating sharp expression patterns (e.g., pair-rule stripes) within broad domains of gene activation. As many as 20 different sequence-specific repressors have been implicated in this process, yet the mechanisms by which they silence gene expression have remained elusive . Here we report the development of a method for the quantitative visualization of transcriptional repression. We focus on the Snail repressor, which establishes the boundary between the presumptive mesoderm and neurogenic ectoderm . We find that elongating Pol II complexes complete transcription after the onset of Snail repression. As a result, moderately sized genes (e.g., the 22 kb sog locus) are fully silenced only after tens of minutes of repression. We propose that this "repression lag" imposes a severe constraint on the regulatory dynamics of embryonic patterning and further suggest that posttranscriptional regulators, like microRNAs, are required to inhibit unwanted transcripts produced during protracted periods of gene silencing.
Current biology: CB 09/2011; 21(18):1571-7. · 10.99 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The 3' termini of eukaryotic mRNAs influence transcript stability, translation efficiency, and subcellular localization. Here we report that a subset of developmental regulatory genes, enriched in critical RNA-processing factors, exhibits synchronous lengthening of their 3' UTRs during embryogenesis. The resulting UTRs are up to 20-fold longer than those found on typical Drosophila mRNAs. The large mRNAs emerge shortly after the onset of zygotic transcription, with several of these genes acquiring additional, phased UTR extensions later in embryogenesis. We show that these extended 3' UTR sequences are selectively expressed in neural tissues and contain putative recognition motifs for the translational repressor, Pumilio, which also exhibits the 3' lengthening phenomenon documented in this study. These findings suggest a previously unknown mode of posttranscriptional regulation that may contribute to the complexity of neurogenesis or neural function.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 09/2011; 108(38):15864-9. · 9.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Segmentation of the Drosophila embryo begins with the establishment of spatially restricted gap gene-expression patterns in response to broad gradients of maternal transcription factors, such as Bicoid. Numerous studies have documented the fidelity of these expression patterns, even when embryos are subjected to genetic or environmental stress, but the underlying mechanisms for this transcriptional precision are uncertain. Here we present evidence that every gap gene contains multiple enhancers with overlapping activities to produce authentic patterns of gene expression. For example, a recently identified hunchback (hb) enhancer (located 5-kb upstream of the classic enhancer) ensures repression at the anterior pole. The combination of intronic and 5' knirps (kni) enhancers produces a faithful expression pattern, even though the intronic enhancer alone directs an abnormally broad expression pattern. We present different models for "enhancer synergy," whereby two enhancers with overlapping activities produce authentic patterns of gene expression.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 08/2011; 108(33):13570-5. · 9.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Many developmental control genes contain paused RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and are thereby "poised" for rapid and synchronous activation in the early Drosophila embryo. Evidence is presented that Polycomb group (PcG) repressors can influence paused Pol II. ChIP-Seq and GRO-Seq assays were used to determine the genome-wide distributions of Pol II, H3K27me3, and H3K4me3 in extra sex combs (esc) mutant embryos. ESC is a key component of the Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2), which mediates H3K27me3 modification. Enhanced Pol II occupancy is observed for thousands of genes in esc mutant embryos, including genes not directly regulated by PRC2. Thus, it would appear that silent genes lacking promoter-associated paused Pol II in wild-type embryos are converted into "poised" genes with paused Pol II in esc mutants. We suggest that this conversion of silent genes into poised genes might render differentiated cell types susceptible to switches in identity in PcG mutants.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The textbook view of gene activation is that the rate-limiting step is the interaction of RNA polymerase II (Pol II) with the gene's promoter. However, studies in a variety of systems, including human embryonic stem cells and the early Drosophila embryo, have begun to challenge this view. There is increasing evidence that differential gene expression often depends on the regulation of transcription elongation via the release of Pol II from the proximal promoter. I review the implications of this mechanism of gene activation with respect to the orderly unfolding of complex gene networks governing animal development.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The visceral ganglion (VG) comprises the basic motor pool of the swimming ascidian tadpole and has been proposed to be homologous to the spinal cord of vertebrates. Here, we use cis-regulatory modules, or enhancers, from transcription factor genes expressed in single VG neuronal precursors to label and identify morphologically distinct moto- and interneuron subtypes in the Ciona intestinalis tadpole larva. We also show that the transcription factor complement present in each differentiating neuron correlates with its unique morphology. Forced expression of putative interneuron markers Dmbx and Vsx results in ectopic interneuron-like cells at the expense of motoneurons. Furthermore, by perturbing upstream signaling events, we can change the transcription factor expression profile and subsequent identity of the different precursors. Perturbation of FGF signaling transforms the entire VG into Vsx+/Pitx+ putative cholinergic interneurons, while perturbation of Notch signaling results in duplication of Dmbx+ decussating interneurons. These experiments demonstrate the connection between transcriptional regulation and the neuronal subtype diversity underlying swimming behavior in a simple chordate.
Development 03/2011; 138(5):995-1004. · 6.60 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Evolutionary innovations can be driven by spatial and temporal changes in gene expression. Several such differences have been documented in the embryos of lower and higher Diptera. One example is the reduction of the ancient extraembryonic envelope composed of amnion and serosa as seen in mosquitoes to the single amnioserosa of fruit flies. We used transcriptional datasets collected during the embryonic development of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, to search for whole-genome changes in gene expression underlying differences in their respective embryonic morphologies. We found that many orthologous gene pairs could be clustered based on the presence of coincident discordances in their temporal expression profiles. One such cluster contained genes expressed specifically in the mosquito serosa. As shown previously, this cluster is re-deployed later in development at the time of cuticle synthesis. In addition, there is a striking difference in the temporal expression of a subset of maternal genes. Specifically, maternal transcripts that exhibit a sharp reduction at the time of the maternal-zygotic transition in Drosophila display sustained expression in the Anopheles embryo. We propose that gene clustering by local temporal discordance can be used for the de novo identification of the gene batteries underlying morphological diversity.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Drosophila "gap" genes provide the first response to maternal gradients in the early fly embryo. Gap genes are expressed in a series of broad bands across the embryo during first hours of development. The gene network controlling the gap gene expression patterns includes inputs from maternal gradients and mutual repression between the gap genes themselves. In this study we propose a modular design for the gap gene network, involving two relatively independent network domains. The core of each network domain includes a toggle switch corresponding to a pair of mutually repressive gap genes, operated in space by maternal inputs. The toggle switches present in the gap network are evocative of the phage lambda switch, but they are operated positionally (in space) by the maternal gradients, so the synthesis rates for the competing components change along the embryo anterior-posterior axis. Dynamic model, constructed based on the proposed principle, with elements of fractional site occupancy, required 5-7 parameters to fit quantitative spatial expression data for gap gradients. The identified model solutions (parameter combinations) reproduced major dynamic features of the gap gradient system and explained gap expression in a variety of segmentation mutants.
PLoS ONE 01/2011; 6(7):e21145. · 3.73 Impact Factor