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17 Janelia Publications

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    09/15/16 | Rapid dynamics of general transcription factor TFIIB binding during preinitiation complex assembly revealed by single-molecule analysis.
    Zhang Z, English BP, Grimm JB, Kazane SA, Hu W, Tsai A, Inouye C, You C, Piehler J, Schultz PG, Lavis LD, Revyakin A, Tjian R
    Genes and Development. 2016 Sep 15;30:2106-18. doi: 10.1101/gad.285395.116

    Transcription of protein-encoding genes in eukaryotic cells requires the coordinated action of multiple general transcription factors (GTFs) and RNA polymerase II (Pol II). A “step-wise” preinitiation complex (PIC) assembly model has been suggested based on conventional ensemble biochemical measurements, in which protein factors bind stably to the promoter DNA sequentially to build a functional PIC. However, recent dynamic measurements in live cells suggest that transcription factors mostly interact with chromatin DNA rather transiently. To gain a clearer dynamic picture of PIC assembly, we established an integrated in vitro single-molecule transcription platform reconstituted from highly purified human transcription factors and complemented it by live-cell imaging. Here we performed real-time measurements of the hierarchal promoter-specific binding of TFIID, TFIIA, and TFIIB. Surprisingly, we found that while promoter binding of TFIID and TFIIA is stable, promoter binding by TFIIB is highly transient and dynamic (with an average residence time of 1.5 sec). Stable TFIIB–promoter association and progression beyond this apparent PIC assembly checkpoint control occurs only in the presence of Pol II–TFIIF. This transient-to-stable transition of TFIIB-binding dynamics has gone undetected previously and underscores the advantages of single-molecule assays for revealing the dynamic nature of complex biological reactions.

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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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    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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    08/31/15 | CASFISH: CRISPR/Cas9-mediated in situ labeling of genomic loci in fixed cells.
    Deng W, Shi X, Tjian R, Lionnet T, Singer RH
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2015 Aug 31;112(38):11870-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1515692112

    Direct visualization of genomic loci in the 3D nucleus is important for understanding the spatial organization of the genome and its association with gene expression. Various DNA FISH methods have been developed in the past decades, all involving denaturing dsDNA and hybridizing fluorescent nucleic acid probes. Here we report a novel approach that uses in vitro constituted nuclease-deficient clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated caspase 9 (Cas9) complexes as probes to label sequence-specific genomic loci fluorescently without global DNA denaturation (Cas9-mediated fluorescence in situ hybridization, CASFISH). Using fluorescently labeled nuclease-deficient Cas9 (dCas9) protein assembled with various single-guide RNA (sgRNA), we demonstrated rapid and robust labeling of repetitive DNA elements in pericentromere, centromere, G-rich telomere, and coding gene loci. Assembling dCas9 with an array of sgRNAs tiling arbitrary target loci, we were able to visualize nonrepetitive genomic sequences. The dCas9/sgRNA binary complex is stable and binds its target DNA with high affinity, allowing sequential or simultaneous probing of multiple targets. CASFISH assays using differently colored dCas9/sgRNA complexes allow multicolor labeling of target loci in cells. In addition, the CASFISH assay is remarkably rapid under optimal conditions and is applicable for detection in primary tissue sections. This rapid, robust, less disruptive, and cost-effective technology adds a valuable tool for basic research and genetic diagnosis.

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    08/28/15 | Chemical perturbation of an intrinsically disordered region of TFIID distinguishes two modes of transcription initiation.
    Zhang Z, Boskovic Z, Hussain MM, Hu W, Inouye C, Kim H, Abole AK, Doud MK, Lewis TA, Koehler AN, Schreiber SL, Tjian R
    eLife. 2015 Aug 28;4:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.07777

    Intrinsically disordered protein regions (IDRs) are peptide segments that fail to form stable 3-dimensional structures in the absence of partner proteins. They are abundant in eukaryotic proteomes and are often associated with human diseases, but their biological functions have been elusive to study. Here we report the identification of a tin(IV) oxochloride-derived cluster that binds an evolutionarily conserved IDR within the metazoan TFIID transcription complex. Binding arrests an isomerization of promoter-bound TFIID that is required for the engagement of Pol II during the first (de novo) round of transcription initiation. However, the specific chemical probe does not affect reinitiation, which requires the re-entry of Pol II, thus, mechanistically distinguishing these two modes of transcription initiation. This work also suggests a new avenue for targeting the elusive IDRs by harnessing certain features of metal-based complexes for mechanistic studies, and for the development of novel pharmaceutical interventions.

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    Tjian Lab
    08/25/15 | Genome-wide errant targeting by Hairy.
    Kok K, Ay A, Li LM, Arnosti DN
    eLife. 2015 Aug 25;4:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.06394

    Metazoan transcriptional repressors regulate chromatin through diverse histone modifications. Contributions of individual factors to the chromatin landscape in development is difficult to establish, as global surveys reflect multiple changes in regulators. Therefore, we studied the conserved Hairy/Enhancer of Split family repressor Hairy, analyzing histone marks and gene expression in Drosophila embryos. This long-range repressor mediates histone acetylation and methylation in large blocks, with highly context-specific effects on target genes. Most strikingly, Hairy exhibits biochemical activity on many loci that are uncoupled to changes in gene expression. Rather than representing inert binding sites, as suggested for many eukaryotic factors, many regions are targeted errantly by Hairy to modify the chromatin landscape. Our findings emphasize that identification of active cis-regulatory elements must extend beyond the survey of prototypical chromatin marks. We speculate that this errant activity may provide a path for creation of new regulatory elements, facilitating the evolution of novel transcriptional circuits.

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    01/19/15 | A general method to improve fluorophores for live-cell and single-molecule microscopy.
    Grimm JB, English BP, Chen J, Slaughter JP, Zhang Z, Revyakin A, Patel R, Macklin JJ, Normanno D, Singer RH, Lionnet T, Lavis LD
    Nature Methods. 2015 Jan 19;12(3):244-50. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.3256

    Specific labeling of biomolecules with bright fluorophores is the keystone of fluorescence microscopy. Genetically encoded self-labeling tag proteins can be coupled to synthetic dyes inside living cells, resulting in brighter reporters than fluorescent proteins. Intracellular labeling using these techniques requires cell-permeable fluorescent ligands, however, limiting utility to a small number of classic fluorophores. Here we describe a simple structural modification that improves the brightness and photostability of dyes while preserving spectral properties and cell permeability. Inspired by molecular modeling, we replaced the N,N-dimethylamino substituents in tetramethylrhodamine with four-membered azetidine rings. This addition of two carbon atoms doubles the quantum efficiency and improves the photon yield of the dye in applications ranging from in vitro single-molecule measurements to super-resolution imaging. The novel substitution is generalizable, yielding a palette of chemical dyes with improved quantum efficiencies that spans the UV and visible range.

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    12/24/14 | 3D imaging of Sox2 enhancer clusters in embryonic stem cells.
    Liu Z, Legant WR, Chen B, Li L, Grimm JB, Lavis LD, Betzig E, Tjian R
    eLife. 2014 Dec 24;3:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.04236

    Combinatorial cis-regulatory networks encoded in animal genomes represent the foundational gene expression mechanism for directing cell-fate commitment and maintenance of cell identity by transcription factors (TFs). However, the 3D spatial organization of cis-elements and how such sub-nuclear structures influence TF activity remain poorly understood. Here, we combine lattice light-sheet imaging, single-molecule tracking, numerical simulations, and ChIP-exo mapping to localize and functionally probe Sox2 enhancer-organization in living embryonic stem cells. Sox2 enhancers form 3D-clusters that are segregated from heterochromatin but overlap with a subset of Pol II enriched regions. Sox2 searches for specific binding targets via a 3D-diffusion dominant mode when shuttling long-distances between clusters while chromatin-bound states predominate within individual clusters. Thus, enhancer clustering may reduce global search efficiency but enables rapid local fine-tuning of TF search parameters. Our results suggest an integrated model linking cis-element 3D spatial distribution to local-versus-global target search modalities essential for regulating eukaryotic gene transcription.

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