Honors & Awards
Siebel Scholar, Siebel Stem Cell Institute (2015)
Doctor, Universitat Des Saarlandes (2011)
Diplom, Universitat Des Saarlandes (2004)
My current research focus is to understand the embryo intrinsic epigenetic (re-)programming that underlies early cell fate decisions and in particular the development of cellular potency. Recent work, including my own, suggests that DNA methylation reprogramming is essential for early embryogenesis and the establishment of toti- and pluripotency. A long-term objective of my studies is understanding the impact of our environment (metabolites, exogenous stress, etc.) on the epigenetic programming of cellular potency and translating the knowledge gained to improve the generation of pluripotent cells for regenerative medicine and the treatment of epigenetically-based common human pathologies. Understanding epigenetic reprogramming in vivo in the early embryo will open up a new era of epigenomic therapy in reproductive and regenerative medicine and will broaden the understanding of fundamental epigenetic mechanisms in developmental biology.
Human preimplantation embryo development involves complex cellular and molecular events that lead to the establishment of three cell lineages in the blastocyst: trophectoderm, primitive endoderm, and epiblast. Owing to limited resources of biological specimens, our understanding of how the earliest lineage commitments are regulated remains narrow. Here, we examined gene expression in 241 individual cells from early and late human blastocysts to delineate dynamic gene-expression changes. We distinguished all three lineages and further developed a 3D model of the inner cell mass and trophectoderm in which individual cells were mapped into distinct expression domains. We identified in silico precursors of the epiblast and primitive endoderm lineages and revealed a role for MCRS1, TET1, and THAP11 in epiblast formation and their ability to induce naive pluripotency in vitro. Our results highlight the potential of single-cell gene-expression analysis in human preimplantation development to instruct human stem cell biology.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.06.014
View details for Web of Science ID 000380073400013
View details for PubMedID 27404362
The human naive pluripotent stem cell (PSC) state, corresponding to a pre-implantation stage of development, has been difficult to capture and sustain in vitro. We report that the Hippo pathway effector YAP is nuclearly localized in the inner cell mass of human blastocysts. Overexpression of YAP in human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced PSCs (iPSCs) promotes the generation of naive PSCs. Lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) can partially substitute for YAP to generate transgene-free human naive PSCs. YAP- or LPA-induced naive PSCs have a rapid clonal growth rate, a normal karyotype, the ability to form teratomas, transcriptional similarities to human pre-implantation embryos, reduced heterochromatin levels, and other hallmarks of the naive state. YAP/LPA act in part by suppressing differentiation-inducing effects of GSK3 inhibition. CRISPR/Cas9-generated YAP(-/-) cells have an impaired ability to form colonies in naive but not primed conditions. These results uncover an unexpected role for YAP in the human naive state, with implications for early human embryology.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.02.036
View details for Web of Science ID 000371998700004
View details for PubMedID 26947063
Long intergenic noncoding RNAs (lincRNAs) are derived from thousands of loci in mammalian genomes and are frequently enriched in transposable elements (TEs). Although families of TE-derived lincRNAs have recently been implicated in the regulation of pluripotency, little is known of the specific functions of individual family members. Here we characterize three new individual TE-derived human lincRNAs, human pluripotency-associated transcripts 2, 3 and 5 (HPAT2, HPAT3 and HPAT5). Loss-of-function experiments indicate that HPAT2, HPAT3 and HPAT5 function in preimplantation embryo development to modulate the acquisition of pluripotency and the formation of the inner cell mass. CRISPR-mediated disruption of the genes for these lincRNAs in pluripotent stem cells, followed by whole-transcriptome analysis, identifies HPAT5 as a key component of the pluripotency network. Protein binding and reporter-based assays further demonstrate that HPAT5 interacts with the let-7 microRNA family. Our results indicate that unique individual members of large primate-specific lincRNA families modulate gene expression during development and differentiation to reinforce cell fate.
View details for DOI 10.1038/ng.3449
View details for PubMedID 26595768
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
DNA methylomes are extensively reprogrammed during mouse pre-implantation and early germ cell development. The main feature of this reprogramming is a genome-wide decrease in 5-methylcytosine (5mC). Standard high-resolution single-stranded bisulfite sequencing techniques do not allow discrimination of the underlying passive (replication-dependent) or active enzymatic mechanisms of 5mC loss. We approached this problem by generating high-resolution deep hairpin bisulfite sequencing (DHBS) maps, allowing us to follow the patterns of symmetric DNA methylation at CpGs dyads on both DNA strands over single replications.We compared DHBS maps of repetitive elements in the developing zygote, the early embryo, and primordial germ cells (PGCs) at defined stages of development. In the zygote, we observed distinct effects in paternal and maternal chromosomes. A significant loss of paternal DNA methylation was linked to replication and to an increase in continuous and dispersed hemimethylated CpG dyad patterns. Overall methylation levels at maternal copies remained largely unchanged, but showed an increased level of dispersed hemi-methylated CpG dyads. After the first cell cycle, the combined DHBS patterns of paternal and maternal chromosomes remained unchanged over the next three cell divisions. By contrast, in PGCs the DNA demethylation process was continuous, as seen by a consistent decrease in fully methylated CpG dyads over consecutive cell divisions.The main driver of DNA demethylation in germ cells and in the zygote is partial impairment of maintenance of symmetric DNA methylation at CpG dyads. In the embryo, this passive demethylation is restricted to the first cell division, whereas it continues over several cell divisions in germ cells. The dispersed patterns of CpG dyads in the early-cleavage embryo suggest a continuous partial (and to a low extent active) loss of methylation apparently compensated for by selective de novo methylation. We conclude that a combination of passive and active demethylation events counteracted by de novo methylation are involved in the distinct reprogramming dynamics of DNA methylomes in the zygote, the early embryo, and PGCs.
View details for DOI 10.1186/1756-8935-8-1
View details for PubMedID 25621012
To ensure genome stability, pericentromeric regions are compacted in a dense heterochromatic structure through a combination of specific 'epigenetic' factors and modifications. A cascadal pathway is responsible for establishing pericentromeric chromatin involving chromatin modifiers and 'readers', such as H3K9 histone methyltransferases (Suv)39h and heterochromatin protein 1. Here we define how H3K64me3 on the lateral surface of the histone octamer integrates within the heterochromatinization cascade. Our data suggest that enrichment of H3K64me3 at pericentromeric chromatin foci is dependent on H3K9me3 but independent of a number of central factors such as heterochromatin protein 1, DNA methyltransferases and Suv4-20h histone methyltransferases. Our results support a model in which pericentromeric heterochromatin foci are formed along distinct pathways upon H3K9 trimethylation, involving H3K64me3 to potentially stabilize DNA-histone interactions, as well as sequential recruitment of repressive histone tail and DNA modifications. We hence suggest that multiple mechanisms ensure heterochromatin integrity at pericentromeres, with H3K64me3 as an important factor.
View details for DOI 10.1038/ncomms3233
View details for Web of Science ID 000323750400002
View details for PubMedID 23903902
The epigenomes of early mammalian embryos are extensively reprogrammed to acquire a totipotent developmental potential. A major initial event in this reprogramming is the active loss/demethylation of 5-methylcytosine (5mC) in the zygote. Here, we report on findings that link this active demethylation to molecular mechanisms. We detect 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) as a novel modification in mouse, bovine and rabbit zygotes. On zygotic development 5hmC accumulates in the paternal pronucleus along with a reduction of 5mC. A knockdown of the 5hmC generating dioxygenase Tet3 simultaneously affects the patterns of 5hmC and 5mC in the paternal pronucleus. This finding links the loss of 5mC to its conversion into 5hmC. The maternal pronucleus seems to be largely protected against this mechanism by PGC7/Dppa3/Stella, as in PGC7 knockout zygotes 5mC also becomes accessible to oxidation into 5hmC. In summary, our data suggest an important role of 5hmC and Tet3 for DNA methylation reprogramming processes in the mammalian zygote.
View details for DOI 10.1038/ncomms1240
View details for Web of Science ID 000289982600031
View details for PubMedID 21407207
In mammalian zygotes, the 5-methyl-cytosine (5mC) content of paternal chromosomes is rapidly changed by a yet unknown but presumably active enzymatic mechanism. Here, we describe the developmental dynamics and parental asymmetries of DNA methylation in relation to the presence of DNA strand breaks, DNA repair markers and a precise timing of zygotic DNA replication. The analysis shows that distinct pre-replicative (active) and replicative (active and passive) phases of DNA demethylation can be observed. These phases of DNA demethylation are concomitant with the appearance of DNA strand breaks and DNA repair markers such as gammaH2A.X and PARP-1, respectively. The same correlations are found in cloned embryos obtained after somatic cell nuclear transfer. Together, the data suggest that (1) DNA-methylation reprogramming is more complex and extended as anticipated earlier and (2) the DNA demethylation, particularly the rapid loss of 5mC in paternal DNA, is likely to be linked to DNA repair mechanisms.
View details for DOI 10.1038/emboj.2010.80
View details for Web of Science ID 000278235100010
View details for PubMedID 20442707
Here, we summarize current knowledge about epigenetic reprogramming during mammalian preimplantation development, as well as the potential mechanisms driving these processes. We will particularly focus on changes taking place in the zygote, where the paternally derived DNA and chromatin undergo the most striking alterations, such as replacement of protamines by histones, histone modifications and active DNA demethylation. The putative mechanisms of active paternal DNA demethylation have been studied for over a decade, accumulating a lot of circumstantial evidence for enzymatic activities provided by the oocyte, protection of the maternal genome against such activities and possible involvement of DNA repair. We will discuss the various facets of dynamic epigenetic changes related to DNA methylation with an emphasis on the putative involvement of DNA repair in DNA demethylation.
View details for DOI 10.1387/ijdb.103206kl
View details for Web of Science ID 000291961200003
View details for PubMedID 21404179