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50 Publications

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    07/28/17 | Myc Regulates Chromatin Decompaction and Nuclear Architecture during B Cell Activation.
    Kieffer-Kwon K, Nimura K, Rao SS, Xu J, Jung S, Pekowska A, Dose M, Stevens E, Mathe E, Dong P, Huang S, Ricci MA, Baranello L, Zheng Y, Ardori FT, Resch W, Stavreva D, Nelson S, McAndrew M, Casellas A, Finn E, Gregory C, St Hilaire BG, Johnson SM, Dubois W, Cosma MP, Batchelor E, Levens D, Phair RD, Misteli T, Tessarollo L, Hager G, Lakadamyali M, Liu Z, Floer M, Shroff H, Aiden EL, Casellas R
    Molecular Cell. 2017 Jul 28;67(4):566-78. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2017.07.013

    50 years ago, Vincent Allfrey and colleagues discovered that lymphocyte activation triggers massive acetylation of chromatin. However, the molecular mechanisms driving epigenetic accessibility are still unknown. We here show that stimulated lymphocytes decondense chromatin by three differentially regulated steps. First, chromatin is repositioned away from the nuclear periphery in response to global acetylation. Second, histone nanodomain clusters decompact into mononucleosome fibers through a mechanism that requires Myc and continual energy input. Single-molecule imaging shows that this step lowers transcription factor residence time and non-specific collisions during sampling for DNA targets. Third, chromatin interactions shift from long range to predominantly short range, and CTCF-mediated loops and contact domains double in numbers. This architectural change facilitates cognate promoter-enhancer contacts and also requires Myc and continual ATP production. Our results thus define the nature and transcriptional impact of chromatin decondensation and reveal an unexpected role for Myc in the establishment of nuclear topology in mammalian cells.

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    05/01/17 | Shaping development by stochasticity and dynamics in gene regulation.
    Dong P, Liu Z
    Open Biology. 2017 May;7(5):. doi: 10.1098/rsob.170030

    Animal development is orchestrated by spatio-temporal gene expression programmes that drive precise lineage commitment, proliferation and migration events at the single-cell level, collectively leading to large-scale morphological change and functional specification in the whole organism. Efforts over decades have uncovered two 'seemingly contradictory' mechanisms in gene regulation governing these intricate processes: (i) stochasticity at individual gene regulatory steps in single cells and (ii) highly coordinated gene expression dynamics in the embryo. Here we discuss how these two layers of regulation arise from the molecular and the systems level, and how they might interplay to determine cell fate and to control the complex body plan. We also review recent technological advancements that enable quantitative analysis of gene regulation dynamics at single-cell, single-molecule resolution. These approaches outline next-generation experiments to decipher general principles bridging gaps between molecular dynamics in single cells and robust gene regulations in the embryo.

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    03/13/17 | Stochastic protein labeling enables long-term single molecule observation in vivo.
    Liu H, Dong P, Ioannou MS, Li L, Shea J, Pasolli HA, Grimm JB, Rivlin PK, Lavis LD, Koyama M, Liu Z
    bioRxiv. 2017 Mar 13:. doi: 10.1101/116186

    Our ability to unambiguously image and track individual molecules in live cells is limited by packing of multiple copies of labeled molecules within the resolution limit. Here we devise a universal genetic strategy to precisely control protein copy number in a cell. This system has a dynamic titration range of more than 10,000 fold, enabling sparse labeling of proteins expressed at widely different levels. Combined with fluorescence signal amplification tags, this system extends the duration of automated single-molecule tracking by 2 orders of magnitude. We demonstrate long-term imaging of synaptic vesicle dynamics in cultured neurons as well as in live zebrafish. We found that axon initial segment utilizes a waterfall mechanism gating synaptic vesicle transport polarity by promoting anterograde transport processivity. Long-time observation also reveals that transcription factor Sox2 samples clustered binding sites in spatially-restricted sub-nuclear regions, suggesting that topological structures in the nucleus shape local gene activities by a sequestering mechanism. This strategy thus greatly expands the spatiotemporal length scales of live-cell single-molecule measurements for a quantitative understanding of complex control of molecular dynamics in vivo.

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    10/24/16 | Bright photoactivatable fluorophores for single-molecule imaging.
    Lavis LD, Grimm JB, English BP, Choi H, Muthusamy AK, Mehl BP, Dong P, Brown TA, Lippincott-Schwartz J, Liu Z, Lionnet T
    Nature Methods. 2016 Oct 24;13(12):985-8. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.4034

    Small molecule fluorophores are important tools for advanced imaging experiments. The development of self-labeling protein tags such as the HaloTag and SNAP-tag has expanded the utility of chemical dyes in live-cell microscopy. We recently described a general method for improving the brightness and photostability of small, cell-permeable fluorophores, resulting in the novel azetidine-containing "Janelia Fluor" (JF) dyes. Here, we refine and extend the utility of the JF dyes by synthesizing photoactivatable derivatives that are compatible with live cell labeling strategies. These compounds retain the superior brightness of the JF dyes once activated, but their facile photoactivation also enables improved single-particle tracking and localization microscopy experiments.

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    08/03/16 | Real-time imaging of Huntingtin aggregates diverting target search and gene transcription.
    Li L, Liu H, Dong P, Li D, Legant WR, Grimm JB, Lavis LD, Betzig E, Tjian R, Liu Z
    eLife. 2016 Aug 03;5:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.17056

    The presumptive altered dynamics of transient molecular interactions in vivo contributing to neurodegenerative diseases have remained elusive. Here, using single-molecule localization microscopy, we show that disease-inducing Huntingtin (mHtt) protein fragments display three distinct dynamic states in living cells - 1) fast diffusion, 2) dynamic clustering and 3) stable aggregation. Large, stable aggregates of mHtt exclude chromatin and form 'sticky' decoy traps that impede target search processes of key regulators involved in neurological disorders. Functional domain mapping based on super-resolution imaging reveals an unexpected role of aromatic amino acids in promoting protein-mHtt aggregate interactions. Genome-wide expression analysis and numerical simulation experiments suggest mHtt aggregates reduce transcription factor target site sampling frequency and impair critical gene expression programs in striatal neurons. Together, our results provide insights into how mHtt dynamically forms aggregates and disrupts the finely-balanced gene control mechanisms in neuronal cells.

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    03/21/16 | Emerging imaging and genomic tools for developmental systems biology.
    Liu Z, Keller PJ
    Developmental Cell. 2016 Mar 21;36(6):597-610. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.02.016

    Animal development is a complex and dynamic process orchestrated by exquisitely timed cell lineage commitment, divisions, migration, and morphological changes at the single-cell level. In the past decade, extensive genetic, stem cell, and genomic studies provided crucial insights into molecular underpinnings and the functional importance of genetic pathways governing various cellular differentiation processes. However, it is still largely unknown how the precise coordination of these pathways is achieved at the whole-organism level and how the highly regulated spatiotemporal choreography of development is established in turn. Here, we discuss the latest technological advances in imaging and single-cell genomics that hold great promise for advancing our understanding of this intricate process. We propose an integrated approach that combines such methods to quantitatively decipher in vivo cellular dynamic behaviors and their underlying molecular mechanisms at the systems level with single-cell, single-molecule resolution.

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    01/16/16 | Imaging transcription: past, present, and future.
    Coleman RA, Liu Z, Darzacq X, Tjian R, Singer RH, Lionnet T
    Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. 2015;80:1-8. doi: 10.1101/sqb.2015.80.027201

    Transcription, the first step of gene expression, is exquisitely regulated in higher eukaryotes to ensure correct development and homeostasis. Traditional biochemical, genetic, and genomic approaches have proved successful at identifying factors, regulatory sequences, and potential pathways that modulate transcription. However, they typically only provide snapshots or population averages of the highly dynamic, stochastic biochemical processes involved in transcriptional regulation. Single-molecule live-cell imaging has, therefore, emerged as a complementary approach capable of circumventing these limitations. By observing sequences of molecular events in real time as they occur in their native context, imaging has the power to derive cause-and-effect relationships and quantitative kinetics to build predictive models of transcription. Ongoing progress in fluorescence imaging technology has brought new microscopes and labeling technologies that now make it possible to visualize and quantify the transcription process with single-molecule resolution in living cells and animals. Here we provide an overview of the evolution and current state of transcription imaging technologies. We discuss some of the important concepts they uncovered and present possible future developments that might solve long-standing questions in transcriptional regulation.

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    11/13/15 | Dynamics of CRISPR-Cas9 genome interrogation in living cells.
    Knight SC, Xie L, Deng W, Guglielmi B, Witkowsky LB, Bosanac L, Zhang ET, El Beheiry M, Masson J, Dahan M, Liu Z, Doudna JA, Tjian R
    Science (New York, N.Y.). 2015 Nov 13;350(6262):823-6. doi: 10.1126/science.aac6572

    The RNA-guided CRISPR-associated protein Cas9 is used for genome editing, transcriptional modulation, and live-cell imaging. Cas9-guide RNA complexes recognize and cleave double-stranded DNA sequences on the basis of 20-nucleotide RNA-DNA complementarity, but the mechanism of target searching in mammalian cells is unknown. Here, we use single-particle tracking to visualize diffusion and chromatin binding of Cas9 in living cells. We show that three-dimensional diffusion dominates Cas9 searching in vivo, and off-target binding events are, on average, short-lived (<1 second). Searching is dependent on the local chromatin environment, with less sampling and slower movement within heterochromatin. These results reveal how the bacterial Cas9 protein interrogates mammalian genomes and navigates eukaryotic chromatin structure.

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    09/22/15 | A specific E3 ligase/deubiquitinase pair modulates TBP protein levels during muscle differentiation.
    Li L, Martinez SS, Hu W, Liu Z, Tjian R
    eLife. 2015;4:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.08536

    TFIID-a complex of TATA-binding protein (TBP) and TBP-associated factors (TAFs)-is a central component of the Pol II promoter recognition apparatus. Recent studies have revealed significant downregulation of TFIID subunits in terminally differentiated myocytes, hepatocytes and adipocytes. Here, we report that TBP protein levels are tightly regulated by the ubiquitin-proteasome system. Using an in vitro ubiquitination assay coupled with biochemical fractionation, we identified Huwe1 as an E3 ligase targeting TBP for K48-linked ubiquitination and proteasome-mediated degradation. Upregulation of Huwe1 expression during myogenesis induces TBP degradation and myotube differentiation. We found that Huwe1 activity on TBP is antagonized by the deubiquitinase USP10, which protects TBP from degradation. Thus, modulating the levels of both Huwe1 and USP10 appears to fine-tune the requisite degradation of TBP during myogenesis. Together, our study unmasks a previously unknown interplay between an E3 ligase and a deubiquitinating enzyme regulating TBP levels during cellular differentiation.

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    08/13/15 | Lighting up genes in single cells at scale.
    Liu Z
    Cell. 2015 Aug 13;162(4):705-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.07.052