Postnatal genome editing partially restores dystrophin expression in a mouse model of muscular dystrophy

Andréa Allaire1
1Université de Sherbrooke

CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing holds clinical potential for treating genetic diseases, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), which is caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene. To correct DMD by skipping mutant dystrophin exons in postnatal muscle tissue in vivo, we used adeno-associated virus-9 (AAV9) to deliver gene-editing components to postnatal mdx mice, a model of DMD. Different modes of AAV9 delivery were systematically tested, including intraperitoneal at postnatal day 1 (P1), intramuscular at P12, and retro-orbital at P18. Each of these methods restored dystrophin protein expression in cardiac and skeletal muscle to varying degrees, and expression increased from 3 to 12 weeks after injection. Postnatal gene editing also enhanced skeletal muscle function, as measured by grip strength tests 4 weeks after injection. This method provides a potential means of correcting mutations responsible for DMD and other monogenic disorders after birth.

Asymmetrical roles of zinc fingers in dynamic DNA-scanning process by the inducible transcription factor Egr-1

Cynthia Tremblay1
1Université de Sherbrooke

Levani Zandarashvili, Dana Vuzman, Alexandre Esadze, Yuki Takayama, Debashish Sahu, Yaakov Levy, Junji Iwahara

Egr-1 is an inducible transcription factor that recognizes 9-bp target DNA sites via three zinc finger domains and activates genes in response to cellular stimuli such as synaptic signals and vascular stresses. Using spectroscopic and computational approaches, we have studied structural, dynamic, and kinetic aspects of the DNA-scanning process in which Egr-1 is nonspecifically bound to DNA and perpetually changes its location on DNA. Our NMR data indicate that Egr-1 undergoes highly dynamic domain motions when scanning DNA. In particular, the zinc finger 1 (ZF1) of Egr-1 in the nonspecific complex is mainly dissociated from DNA and undergoes collective motions on a nanosecond timescale, whereas zinc fingers 2 and 3 (ZF2 and ZF3, respectively) are bound to DNA. This was totally unexpected because the previous crystallographic studies of the specific complex indicated that all of Egr-1’s three zinc fingers are equally involved in binding to a target DNA site. Mutations that are expected to enhance ZF1’s interactions with DNA and with ZF2 were found to reduce ZF1’s domain motions in the nonspecific complex suggesting that these interactions dictate the dynamic behavior of ZF1. By experiment and computation, we have also investigated kinetics of Egr-1’s translocation between two nonspecific DNA duplexes. Our data on the wild type and mutant proteins suggest that the domain dynamics facilitate Egr-1’s intersegment transfer that involves transient bridging of two DNA sites. These results shed light on asymmetrical roles of the zinc finger domains for Egr-1 to scan DNA efficiently in the nucleus.

CTCF-promoted RNA polymerase II pausing links DNA methylation to splicing

Vincent Boivin1
1Université de Sherbrooke

Alternative splicing of pre-messenger RNA is a key feature of transcriptome expansion in eukaryotic cells, yet its regulation is poorly understood. Spliceosome assembly occurs co-transcriptionally, raising the possibility that DNA structure may directly influence alternative splicing. Supporting such an association, recent reports have identified distinct histone methylation patterns, elevated nucleosome occupancy and enriched DNA methylation at exons relative to introns. Moreover, the rate of transcription elongation has been linked to alternative splicing. Here we provide the first evidence that a DNA-binding protein, CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF), can promote inclusion of weak upstream exons by mediating local RNA polymerase II pausing both in a mammalian model system for alternative splicing, CD45, and genome-wide. We further show that CTCF binding to CD45 exon 5 is inhibited by DNA methylation, leading to reciprocal effects on exon 5 inclusion. These findings provide a mechanistic basis for developmental regulation of splicing outcome through heritable epigenetic marks.

Engineering nonphosphorylative metabolism to generate lignocellulose-derived products

Caroline Telekawa1
1Université de Sherbrooke

Conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into value-added products provides important environmental and economic benefits. Here we report the engineering of an unconventional metabolism for the production of tricarboxylic acid (TCA)-cycle derivatives from D-xylose, L-arabinose and D-galacturonate. We designed a growth-based selection platform to identify several gene clusters functional in Escherichia coli that can perform this nonphosphorylative assimilation of sugars into the TCA cycle in less than six steps. To demonstrate the application of this new metabolic platform, we built artificial biosynthetic pathways to 1,4-butanediol (BDO) with a theoretical molar yield of 100%. By screening and engineering downstream pathway enzymes, 2-ketoacid decarboxylases and alcohol dehydrogenases, we constructed E. coli strains capable of producing BDO from D-xylose, L-arabinose and D-galacturonate. The titers, rates and yields were higher than those previously reported using conventional pathways. This work
demonstrates the potential of nonphosphorylative metabolism for biomanufacturing with improved biosynthetic efficiencies.

Quantification of Protein Levels in Single Living Cells

Vivian Delcourt1
1Université de Sherbrooke

Accurate measurement of the amount of specific protein
a cell produces is important for investigating
basic molecular processes. We have developed a
technique that allows for quantitation of protein levels
in single cells in vivo. This protein quantitation ratioing
(PQR) technique uses a genetic tag that produces a
stoichiometric ratio of a fluorescent protein reporter
and the protein of interest during protein translation.
The fluorescence intensity is proportional to the number
of molecules produced of the protein of interest
and is used to determine the relative amount of protein
within the cell.We use PQR to quantify protein expression
of different genes using quantitative imaging,
electrophysiology, and phenotype. We use genome
editing to insert Protein Quantitation Reporters into
endogenous genomic loci in three different genomes
for quantitation of endogenous protein levels. The
PQR technique will allow for a wide range of quantitative
experiments examining gene-to-phenotype relationships
with greater accuracy.

The histone chaperone CAF-1 safeguards somatic cell identity

Kiersten Dionne1
1Université de Sherbrooke

Cellular differentiation involves profound remodelling of chromatic landscapes, yet the mechanisms by which somatic cell identity is subsequently maintained remain incompletely understood. To further elucidate regulatory pathways that safeguard the somatic state, we performed two comprehensive RNA interference (RNAi) screens targeting chromatin factors during transcription-factor-mediated reprogramming of mouse fibroblasts to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Subunits of the chromatin assembly factor-1 (CAF-1) complex, including Chaf1a and Chaf1b, emerged as the most prominent hits from both screens, followed by modulators of lysine sumoylation and heterochromatin maintenance. Optimal modulation of both CAF-1 and transcription factor levels increased reprogramming efficiency by several orders of magnitude and facilitated iPS cell formation in as little as 4 days. Mechanistically, CAF-1 suppression led to a more accessible chromatin structure at enhancer elements early during reprogramming. These changes were accompanied by a decrease in somatic heterochromatin domains, increased binding of Sox2 to pluripotency-specific targets and activation of associated genes. Notably, suppression of CAF-1 also enhanced the direct conversion of B cells into macrophages and fibroblasts into neurons. Together, our findings reveal the histone chaperone CAF-1 to be a novel regulator of somatic cell identity during transcription-factor-induced cell-fate transitions and provide a potential strategy to modulate cellular plasticity in a regenerative setting.