Honors & Awards
Postdoctoral Fellowship, American Heart Association (2018-2020)
Helen Blau, Postdoctoral Research Mentor
Transcription factors (TFs) reprogram cell states by exerting control over gene regulatory networks and the epigenetic landscape of a cell. Artificial transcription factors (ATFs) are designer regulatory proteins comprised of modular units that can be customized to overcome challenges faced by natural TFs in establishing and maintaining desired cell states. Decades of research on DNA-binding proteins and synthetic molecules has provided a molecular toolkit for ATF design and the construction of genome-scale libraries of ATFs capable of phenotypic manipulation and reprogramming of cell states. Here, we compare the unique strengths and limitations of different ATF platforms, highlight the advantages of cooperative assembly, and present the potential of ATF libraries in revealing gene regulatory networks that govern cell fate choices.
View details for DOI 10.1002/1873-3468.12993
View details for PubMedID 29389011
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5869137
The release of paused RNA polymerase II into productive elongation is highly regulated, especially at genes that affect human development and disease. To exert control over this rate-limiting step, we designed sequence-specific synthetic transcription elongation factors (Syn-TEFs). These molecules are composed of programmable DNA-binding ligands flexibly tethered to a small molecule that engages the transcription elongation machinery. By limiting activity to targeted loci, Syn-TEFs convert constituent modules from broad-spectrum inhibitors of transcription into gene-specific stimulators. Here we present Syn-TEF1, a molecule that actively enables transcription across repressive GAA repeats that silence frataxin expression in Friedreich's ataxia, a terminal neurodegenerative disease with no effective therapy. The modular design of Syn-TEF1 defines a general framework for developing a class of molecules that license transcription elongation at targeted genomic loci.
View details for DOI 10.1126/science.aan6414
View details for PubMedID 29192133
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6037176
The genome is the target of some of the most effective chemotherapeutics, but most of these drugs lack DNA sequence specificity, which leads to dose-limiting toxicity and many adverse side effects. Targeting the genome with sequence-specific small molecules may enable molecules with increased therapeutic index and fewer off-target effects. N-methylpyrrole/N-methylimidazole polyamides are molecules that can be rationally designed to target specific DNA sequences with exquisite precision. And unlike most natural transcription factors, polyamides can bind to methylated and chromatinized DNA without a loss in affinity. The sequence specificity of polyamides has been extensively studied in vitro with cognate site identification (CSI) and with traditional biochemical and biophysical approaches, but the study of polyamide binding to genomic targets in cells remains elusive. Here we report a method, the crosslinking of small molecules to isolate chromatin (COSMIC), that identifies polyamide binding sites across the genome. COSMIC is similar to chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), but differs in two important ways: (1) a photocrosslinker is employed to enable selective, temporally-controlled capture of polyamide binding events, and (2) the biotin affinity handle is used to purify polyamide-DNA conjugates under semi-denaturing conditions to decrease DNA that is non-covalently bound. COSMIC is a general strategy that can be used to reveal the genome-wide binding events of polyamides and other genome-targeting chemotherapeutic agents.
View details for DOI 10.3791/53510
View details for PubMedID 26863565
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4781686
Artificial transcription factors (ATFs) are precision-tailored molecules designed to bind DNA and regulate transcription in a preprogrammed manner. Libraries of ATFs enable the high-throughput screening of gene networks that trigger cell fate decisions or phenotypic changes. We developed a genome-scale library of ATFs that display an engineered interaction domain (ID) to enable cooperative assembly and synergistic gene expression at targeted sites. We used this ATF library to screen for key regulators of the pluripotency network and discovered three combinations of ATFs capable of inducing pluripotency without exogenous expression of Oct4 (POU domain, class 5, TF 1). Cognate site identification, global transcriptional profiling, and identification of ATF binding sites reveal that the ATFs do not directly target Oct4; instead, they target distinct nodes that converge to stimulate the endogenous pluripotency network. This forward genetic approach enables cell type conversions without a priori knowledge of potential key regulators and reveals unanticipated gene network dynamics that drive cell fate choices.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1611142114
View details for PubMedID 27930301
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5187731
Targeting the genome with sequence-specific synthetic molecules is a major goal at the interface of chemistry, biology, and personalized medicine. Pyrrole/imidazole-based polyamides can be rationally designed to target specific DNA sequences with exquisite precision in?vitro; yet, the biological outcomes are often difficult to interpret using current models of binding energetics. To directly identify the binding sites of polyamides across the genome, we designed, synthesized, and tested polyamide derivatives that enabled covalent crosslinking and localization of polyamide-DNA interaction sites in live human cells. Bioinformatic analysis of the data reveals that clustered binding sites, spanning a broad range of affinities, best predict occupancy in cells. In contrast to the prevailing paradigm of targeting single high-affinity sites, our results point to a new design principle to deploy polyamides and perhaps other synthetic molecules to effectively target desired genomic sites in?vivo.
View details for DOI 10.1002/anie.201405497
View details for PubMedID 25066383
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4160732
Transcription factors control the fate of a cell by regulating the expression of genes and regulatory networks. Recent successes in inducing pluripotency in terminally differentiated cells as well as directing differentiation with natural transcription factors has lent credence to the efforts that aim to direct cell fate with rationally designed transcription factors. Because DNA-binding factors are modular in design, they can be engineered to target specific genomic sequences and perform pre-programmed regulatory functions upon binding. Such precision-tailored factors can serve as molecular tools to reprogramme or differentiate cells in a targeted manner. Using different types of engineered DNA binders, both regulatory transcriptional controls of gene networks, as well as permanent alteration of genomic content, can be implemented to study cell fate decisions. In the present review, we describe the current state of the art in artificial transcription factor design and the exciting prospect of employing artificial DNA-binding factors to manipulate the transcriptional networks as well as epigenetic landscapes that govern cell fate.
View details for DOI 10.1042/BJ20140400
View details for PubMedID 25145439
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4205157
During CNS injury and diseases, nitric oxide (NO) is released at a high flux rate leading to formation of peroxynitrite (ONOO(*)) and other reactive nitrogenous species, which nitrate tyrosines of proteins to form 3-nitrotyrosine (3NY), leading to cell death. Previously, we have found that motor neurons exposed to low levels of NO become resistant to subsequent cytotoxic NO challenge; an effect dubbed induced adaptive resistance (IAR). Here, we report IAR mitigates, not only cell death, but 3NY formation in response to cytotoxic NO. Addition of an NO scavenger before NO challenge duplicates IAR, implicating reactive nitrogenous species in cell death. Addition of uric acid (a peroxynitrite scavenger) before cytotoxic NO challenge, duplicates IAR, implicating peroxynitrite, with subsequent 3NY formation, in cell death, and abrogation of this pathway as a mechanism of IAR. IAR is dependent on the heme-metabolizing enzyme, heme oxygenase-1 (HO1), as indicated by the elimination of IAR by a specific HO1 inhibitor, and by the finding that neurons isolated from HO1 null mice have increased NO sensitivity with concomitant increased 3NY formation. This data indicate that IAR is an HO1-dependent mechanism that prevents peroxynitrite-mediated NO toxicity in motor neurons, thereby elucidating therapeutic targets for the mitigation of CNS disease and injury.
View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.05884.x
View details for Web of Science ID 000264022700007
View details for PubMedID 19183270
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC2692600
Depending on its concentration, nitric oxide (NO) has beneficial or toxic effects. In pathological conditions, NO reacts with superoxide to form peroxynitrite, which nitrates proteins forming nitrotyrosine residues (3NY), leading to loss of protein function, perturbation of signal transduction, and cell death. 3NY immunoreactivity is present in many CNS diseases, particularly multiple sclerosis. Here, using the high flux NO donor, spermine-NONOate, we report that oligodendrocytes are resistant to NO, while motor neurons are NO sensitive. Motor neuron sensitivity correlates with the NO-dependent formation of 3NY, which is significantly more pronounced in motor neurons when compared with oligodendrocytes, suggesting peroxynitrite as the toxic molecule. The heme-metabolizing enzyme, heme-oxygenase-1 (HO1), is necessary for oligodendrocyte NO resistance, as demonstrated by loss of resistance after HO1 inhibition. Resistance is reinstated by peroxynitrite scavenging with uric acid further implicating peroxynitrite as responsible for NO sensitivity. Most importantly, differential sensitivity to NO is also present in cultures of primary oligodendrocytes and motor neurons. Finally, motor neurons cocultured with oligodendrocytes, or oligodendrocyte-conditioned media, become resistant to NO toxicity. Preliminary studies suggest oligodendrocytes release a soluble factor that protects motor neurons. Our findings challenge the current paradigm that oligodendrocytes are the exclusive target of multiple sclerosis pathology.
View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.05891.x
View details for Web of Science ID 000264022700009
View details for PubMedID 19226373
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC2756289