Joanna Wysocka lab

The biological question that is driving our research in the long-term is understanding the epigenetic basis of vertebrate development and differentiation. Although each cell of a multicellular organism is a progeny of a single zygote, and shares the same genetic information with every other cell, cells differentiate to specialized forms such as skin, muscle or nervous cells. Our research focuses on understanding the mechanistic basis by which covalent histone modifications regulate gene expression patterns during vertebrate development and differentiation. A second major area of our interest involves chromatin regulation in embryonic stem cells (ESCs), molecular basis of pluripotency and role of histone methyltransferases in cell fate decisions.

Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology and of Developmental Biology

Publications

  • Mll3 and Mll4 Facilitate Enhancer RNA Synthesis and Transcription from Promoters Independently of H3K4 Monomethylation MOLECULAR CELL Dorighi, K. M., Swigut, T., Henriques, T., Bhanu, N. V., Scruggs, B. S., Nady, N., Still, C. D., Garcia, B. A., Adelman, K., Wysocka, J. 2017; 66 (4): 568-?

    Abstract

    Monomethylation of histone H3 at lysine 4 (H3K4me1) and acetylation of histone H3 at lysine 27 (H3K27ac) are correlated with transcriptionally engaged enhancer elements, but the functional impact of these modifications on enhancer activity is not well understood. Here we used CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to separate catalytic activity-dependent and independent functions of Mll3 (Kmt2c) and Mll4 (Kmt2d, Mll2), the major enhancer H3K4 monomethyltransferases. Loss of H3K4me1 from enhancers in Mll3/4 catalytically deficient cells causes partial reduction of H3K27ac, but has surprisingly minor effects on transcription from either enhancers or promoters. In contrast, loss of Mll3/4 proteins leads to strong depletion of enhancer Pol II occupancy and eRNA synthesis, concomitant with downregulation of target genes. Interestingly, downregulated genes exhibit reduced polymerase levels in gene bodies, but not at promoters, suggestive of pause-release defects. Altogether, our results suggest that enhancer H3K4me1 provides only a minor contribution to the long-range coactivator function of Mll3/4.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.molcel.2017.04.018

    View details for Web of Science ID 000401512200014

    View details for PubMedID 28483418

  • Selective silencing of euchromatic L1s revealed by genome-wide screens for L1 regulators. Nature Liu, N., Lee, C. H., Swigut, T., Grow, E., Gu, B., Bassik, M., Wysocka, J. 2017

    Abstract

    Transposable elements (TEs) are now recognized not only as parasitic DNA, whose spread in the genome must be controlled by the host, but also as major players in genome evolution and regulation1-6. Long INterspersed Element-1 (LINE-1 or L1), the only currently autonomous mobile transposon in humans, occupies 17% of the genome and continues to generate inter- and intra-individual genetic variation, in some cases resulting in disease1-7. Nonetheless, how L1 activity is controlled and what function L1s play in host gene regulation remain incompletely understood. Here, we use CRISPR/Cas9 screening strategies in two distinct human cell lines to provide the first genome-wide survey of genes involved in L1 retrotransposition control. We identified functionally diverse genes that either promote or restrict L1 retrotransposition. These genes, often associated with human diseases, control the L1 lifecycle at transcriptional or post-transcriptional levels and in a manner that can depend on the endogenous L1 sequence, underscoring the complexity of L1 regulation. We further investigated L1 restriction by MORC2 and human silencing hub (HUSH) complex subunits MPP8 and TASOR8. HUSH/MORC2 selectively bind evolutionarily young, full-length L1s located within transcriptionally permissive euchromatic environment, and promote H3K9me3 deposition for transcriptional silencing. Interestingly, these silencing events often occur within introns of transcriptionally active genes and lead to down-regulation of host gene expression in a HUSH/MORC2-dependent manner. Together, we provide a rich resource for studies of L1 retrotransposition, elucidate a novel L1 restriction pathway, and illustrate how epigenetic silencing of TEs rewires host gene expression programs.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature25179

    View details for PubMedID 29211708

  • Ever-Changing Landscapes: Transcriptional Enhancers in Development and Evolution CELL Long, H. K., Prescott, S. L., Wysocka, J. 2016; 167 (5): 1170-1187

    Abstract

    A class of cis-regulatory elements, called enhancers, play a central role in orchestrating spatiotemporally precise gene-expression programs during development. Consequently, divergence in enhancer sequence and activity is thought to be an important mediator of inter- and intra-species phenotypic variation. Here, we give an overview of emerging principles of enhancer function, current models of enhancer architecture, genomic substrates from which enhancers emerge during evolution, and the influence of three-dimensional genome organization on long-range gene regulation. We discuss intricate relationships between distinct elements within complex regulatory landscapes and consider their potential impact on specificity and robustness of transcriptional regulation.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2016.09.018

    View details for Web of Science ID 000389470100011

    View details for PubMedID 27863239

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5123704

  • Enhancer Divergence and cis-Regulatory Evolution in the Human and Chimp Neural Crest. Cell Prescott, S. L., Srinivasan, R., Marchetto, M. C., Grishina, I., Narvaiza, I., Selleri, L., Gage, F. H., Swigut, T., Wysocka, J. 2015; 163 (1): 68-83

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2015.08.036

    View details for PubMedID 26365491

  • Intrinsic retroviral reactivation in human preimplantation embryos and pluripotent cells. Nature Grow, E. J., Flynn, R. A., Chavez, S. L., Bayless, N. L., Wossidlo, M., Wesche, D. J., Martin, L., Ware, C. B., Blish, C. A., Chang, H. Y., Pera, R. A., Wysocka, J. 2015; 522 (7555): 221-225

    Abstract

    Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are remnants of ancient retroviral infections, and comprise nearly 8% of the human genome. The most recently acquired human ERV is HERVK(HML-2), which repeatedly infected the primate lineage both before and after the divergence of the human and chimpanzee common ancestor. Unlike most other human ERVs, HERVK retained multiple copies of intact open reading frames encoding retroviral proteins. However, HERVK is transcriptionally silenced by the host, with the exception of in certain pathological contexts such as germ-cell tumours, melanoma or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Here we demonstrate that DNA hypomethylation at long terminal repeat elements representing the most recent genomic integrations, together with transactivation by OCT4 (also known as POU5F1), synergistically facilitate HERVK expression. Consequently, HERVK is transcribed during normal human embryogenesis, beginning with embryonic genome activation at the eight-cell stage, continuing through the emergence of epiblast cells in preimplantation blastocysts, and ceasing during human embryonic stem cell derivation from blastocyst outgrowths. Remarkably, we detected HERVK viral-like particles and Gag proteins in human blastocysts, indicating that early human development proceeds in the presence of retroviral products. We further show that overexpression of one such product, the HERVK accessory protein Rec, in a pluripotent cell line is sufficient to increase IFITM1 levels on the cell surface and inhibit viral infection, suggesting at least one mechanism through which HERVK can induce viral restriction pathways in early embryonic cells. Moreover, Rec directly binds a subset of cellular RNAs and modulates their ribosome occupancy, indicating that complex interactions between retroviral proteins and host factors can fine-tune pathways of early human development.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature14308

    View details for PubMedID 25896322

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4503379