InteractiveFly: GeneBrief

Bre1: Biological Overview | References

Gene name - Bre1

Synonyms -

Cytological map position- 64E8-64E8

Function - enzyme

Keywords - Notch pathway, chromatin modification

Symbol - Bre1

FlyBase ID: FBgn0086694

Genetic map position - 3L: 5,783,274..5,787,291 [-]

Classification - RING-finger, ubiquitin ligase

Cellular location - nuclear

NCBI links: Precomputed BLAST | EntrezGene

Notch signaling controls numerous cell fate decisions during animal development. These typically involve a Notch-mediated switch in transcription of target genes, although the details of this molecular mechanism are poorly understood. dBre1 has been identified as a nuclear component required cell autonomously for the expression of Notch target genes in Drosophila development. dBre1 affects the levels of Su(H) in imaginal disc cells, and it stimulates the Su(H)-mediated transcription of a Notch-specific reporter in transfected Drosophila cells. Strikingly, dBre1 mutant clones show much reduced levels of methylated lysine 4 on histone 3 (H3K4m), a chromatin mark that has been implicated in transcriptional activation. Thus, dBre1 is the functional homolog of yeast Bre1p, an E3 ubiquitin ligase required for the monoubiquitination of histone H2BIt has been suggested that the Paf1 complex (see Drosophila Paf1) functionally activates activation Rad6-Bre1 complex in ubiquitination of histone H2B at promoters (Wood, 2003). Monoubiquitination of histone H2B, catalyzed by Rad6-Bre1, is required for methylation of histone H3 on lysines 4 and 79, catalyzed by the Set1-containing complex COMPASS and Dot1p, respectively. The Paf1 protein complex, which associates with RNA polymerase II, is known to be required for these histone H3 methylation events. During the early elongation stage of transcription, the Paf1 complex is required for association of COMPASS with RNA polymerase II, but the role the Paf1 complex plays at the promoter has not been clear. Evidence that the Paf1 complex is required for monoubiquitination of histone H2B at promoters. Strains deleted for several components of the Paf1 complex are defective in monoubiquitination of histone H2B, which results in the loss of methylation of lysines 4 and 79 of histone H3. Paf1 complex is required for the interaction of Rad6 and COMPASS with RNA polymerase II. Finally, the Paf1 complex is shown to be required for Rad6-Bre1 catalytic activity but not for the recruitment of Rad6-Bre1 to promoters. Thus, in addition to its role during the elongation phase of transcription, the Paf1 complex appears to activate the function but not the placement of the Rad6-Bre1 ubiquitin-protein ligase at the promoters of active genes. A model is presented demonstrating the role of the Paf1 complex in the functional activation of the Rad6-Bre1 complex in ubiquitination of histone H2B at promoters (Wood, 2003; full text of article).

The hallmark of the Bre1 proteins is a C-terminal RING finger domain linked to an extensive N-terminal coiled-coil region. The 39 amino acid C3HC4 RING domain is flanked on both sides by 15 conserved amino acids, suggesting that the fly and mammalian proteins are true orthologs of yeast Bre1p (Hwang, 2003). RING domains are typically found in E3 ubiquitin ligases and frequently mediate the interaction with the E2 ubiquitin-activating enzyme while the other parts of the protein are involved in substrate recognition. The RING domains are therefore critical to catalyze the transfer of ubiquitin from the E2 to the substrate. To confirm the functional importance of the RING domain in dBre1, tests were performed to see whether an N-terminal fragment of dBre1 that lacks the RING domain (δ RING) could rescue dBre1 mutants. No rescue was observed with any of the 4 transgenic lines (from a total of 814 flies scored), confirming that the RING domain is essential for the function of dBre1 as it is for yeast Bre1p (Hwang, 2003; Wood, 2003; Bray, 2005).

To examine the subcellular location of full-length dBre1 and the derivative that lacks the RING domain, both forms of the protein were tagged with GFP at the N terminus. Both GFP-dBre1 and GFP-δRING are predominantly nuclear in embryonic and imaginal disc cells, although a low level of protein is also detectable in the cytoplasm. This nuclear-cytoplasmic distribution is similar to that of a δ RING derivative of human Bre1-B when it is overexpressed in mammalian cells. Thus dBre1 appears to be a nuclear protein, like its mammalian counterpart, and deletion of the RING domain does not alter its subcellular distribution even though it abolishes its ability to rescue the mutants (Bray, 2005).

The lethal allele E132 was fortuitously identified among a collection of mutants that modify the wing notching phenotype caused by Armadillo depletion. Genetic mapping of the lethality associated with E132 placed this at 64E8, and it was found to be allelic to an existing mutation, l(3)01640, caused by the P element insertion P1541. Using plasmid rescue of the P element, the site of insertion was localized to the first intron of the open reading frame CG10542, which encodes a predicted protein of 1044 amino acids. The insertion site is 48 nucleotides upstream of the translation initiation codon. Precise excision of P1541 restores viability, confirming that the P element insertion and, by inference, E132 are lethal alleles of CG10542. In support of this, ubiquitous overexpression of the full-length protein encoded by CG10542 rescues the lethality of E132 or P1541 mutant embryos and sustains development to give essentially normal adult flies (with a few minor defects including slightly reduced bristles). CG10542 encodes a conserved protein with close relatives in mammals, C. elegans, plants, and fungi. The Drosophila protein has been named dBre1, after its relative Bre1p in the yeast S. cerevisiae (Bray, 2005).

The hallmarks of the Bre1 proteins are a C-terminal RING finger domain linked to an extensive N-terminal coiled-coil region. The 39 amino acid C3HC4 RING domain is flanked on both sides by ~15 conserved amino acids, suggesting that the fly and mammalian proteins are true orthologs of yeast Bre1p. RING domains are typically found in E3 ubiquitin ligases and frequently mediate the interaction with the E2 ubiquitin-activating enzyme while the other parts of the protein are involved in substrate recognition. The RING domains are therefore critical to catalyze the transfer of ubiquitin from the E2 to the substrate. To confirm the functional importance of the RING domain in dBre1, tests were performed to see whether an N-terminal fragment of dBre1 that lacks the RING domain (ΔRING) could rescue dBre1 mutants. No rescue was observed with any of the 4 transgenic lines (from a total of 814 flies scored), confirming that the RING domain is essential for the function of dBre1 as it is for yeast Bre1p (Bray, 2005).

To examine the subcellular location of full-length dBre1 and the derivative that lacks the RING domain, both forms of the protein were tagged with GFP at the N terminus. Both GFP-dBre1 and GFP-ΔRING are predominantly nuclear in embryonic and imaginal disc cells, although a low level of protein is also detectable in the cytoplasm. This nuclear-cytoplasmic distribution is similar to that of a ΔRING derivative of human Bre1-B when it is overexpressed in mammalian cells. Thus dBre1 appears to be a nuclear protein, like its mammalian counterpart, and deletion of the RING domain does not alter its subcellular distribution even though it abolishes its ability to rescue the mutants (Bray, 2005).

To investigate the role of dBre1 in the fly, homozygous mutant clones were generated in the imaginal disc precursors of the adult structures. Surprisingly, it was found that the majority of defects were similar to those caused by defects in Notch signaling. Thus, adult flies bearing E132 or P1541 mutant clones show notches in the wing margin and aberrant spacing of wing margin bristles, wing blistering and vein defects, fusions of leg segments, and loss of notal bristles and rough eyes. Most of these phenotypes are characteristic of reduced Notch signaling and are distinct from those produced by loss-of-function of other signaling pathways, such as Wingless, Dpp, or Hedgehog signaling that also operate during imaginal disc development. The phenotypic data suggest therefore that dBre1 has a role in promoting Notch signaling (Bray, 2005).

To confirm this, the expression of Notch target genes was examined in dBre1 mutant clones. Since dBre1 mutant clones are considerably smaller than their matched wild-type twin clones, the Minute technique was used to compensate for the growth defect of the mutant clones. In wing imaginal discs, cut and Enhancer of split [E(spl)] are expressed along the prospective wing margin, and their expression depends directly on Notch signaling. Cut expression is absent in large E132 mutant clones, and is lost (3/11) or reduced (6/11) in most P1541 mutant clones. Likewise, E(spl) expression is lost cell autonomously from all E132 mutant clones in the wing. Conversely, expression of spalt, a target of Dpp signaling in the wing, is not reduced in P1541 and E132 mutant cells, indicating that the effects of dBre1 mutation are relatively specific. Similar results are obtained in the eye, where E(spl) expression is also disrupted in E132 clones. Expression in the neurogenic region at the furrow is lost, and elsewhere it is absent or severely reduced, except in the basal layer of undifferentiated cells where expression is independent of Notch. In addition, a derepression of the neuronal cell marker Elav was observed in eye disc clones. The latter indicates excessive neuronal recruitment due to diminished Notch-mediated lateral inhibition (note, however, that the phenotypes are not identical to those produced by complete absence of Notch, which in the eye results in loss of neuronal markers because Notch is needed to promote neural development by alleviating Su(H)-mediated repression. These results demonstrate that dBre1 functions in multiple developmental contexts and, specifically, that it is required for the subset of Notch functions that involve Su(H)-dependent activation of Notch target genes (Bray, 2005).

To further confirm the importance of dBre1 during Notch signaling, it was asked whether any genetic interactions could be detected between overexpressed dBre1 or ΔRING and mutations in Notch (N) or its ligand Delta (Dl). Indeed, overexpression of either protein in the wing disc results in adult phenotypes. In each of 5 ΔRING-expressing lines, mild if consistent mutant phenotypes were observed in both males and females, namely upward-curved wings (due to stronger expression in the dorsal wing compartment), tiny vein deltas, and a significant decrease in wing size. These defects are more severe after overexpression of ΔRING in dBre1 heterozygotes, indicating that ΔRING acts as a weak dominant-negative. Consistent with this, excess ΔRING significantly enhances the phenotypes of N/+ and Dl/+ heterozygotes, resulting in increased vein thickening and additional vein material and, in the case of N/+, also in more frequent wing notching. These genetic interactions support the link between dBre1 and Notch signaling (Bray, 2005).

Excess full-length dBre1 in wing discs causes vein defects whose strength, however, varies considerably between different dBre1-expressing lines, and between males and females (probably because the ms1096.GAL4 driver produces higher expression levels in males). In most lines (4/6), vein thickening and additional vein material were observe only in males, while female wings appear normal. These vein defects in male wings are suppressed to almost normal in dBre1 heterozygotes, suggesting that they are due to increased levels of functional dBre1 protein. The remaining 2 lines produce similar vein defects also in females. Unexpectedly, these defects are enhanced in N/+ and Dl/+ heterozygotes, suggesting that the overexpressed dBre1 interferes with Notch signaling, rather than enhancing it as might have been expected. This anomalous result could be explained if dBre1 is part of a multiprotein complex, in which case its overexpression might interfere with the function of this complex by titrating one of its components. Nevertheless, the genetic interactions between overexpressed dBre1 and Notch and Delta further underscore the link between dBre1 and Notch signaling (Bray, 2005).

To test whether dBre1 directly influences Notch-dependent transcription, Drosophila S2 cells were transfected with Flag-tagged or untagged dBre1, and the activity of a Notch-specific reporter containing 4 Su(H) binding sites [NRE, a luciferase derivative of Gbe+Su(H)m8] was measured in the presence or absence of low levels of NICD. As a control, a reporter was used with mutant Su(H) binding sites [NME, or Gbe+Su(H)mut]. These experiments reveal a significant stimulation of the NRE reporter by dBre1, especially in the presence of NICD. The degree of stimulation is similar to that observed when the ubiquitin ligase Hdm2 is added to transcription assays of Tat activity. dBre1 also elicits a slight stimulation of NME. The fact that overexpressed dBre1 has stimulatory effects on Notch in the transfection assays but not in imaginal discs presumably reflects differences either in the levels of dBre1 or in the amounts of other limiting factors in the two cell contexts. Nevertheless, the transfection assays reveal an intrinsic potential of dBre1 in stimulating the transcription mediated by Su(H) and its coactivator NICD (Bray, 2005).

All these results point to a role of dBre1 in promoting Notch signaling. Since other ubiquitin ligases have been shown to influence the levels of specific protein components of the Notch pathway, whether there were any alterations to Notch, Delta, or Su(H) levels in dBre1 mutant clones was investigated. While there are no detectable changes in Notch or Delta staining in dBre1 mutant cells, the levels of Su(H) staining are enhanced slightly but consistently, and cell autonomously, in mutant clones of both dBre1 alleles, regardless of the location of these clones within the disc. This is also obvious in clones induced early in larval development in a non-Minute background in which the mutant dBre1 clones remain small. As an aside, these clones reveal that individual dBre1 mutant cells are enlarged, reminiscent of the yeast bre1p mutant which also shows a 'large cell'phenotype. This phenotype has not been observed in cells lacking Notch signaling, so this aspect of dBre1 function appears distinct from its role in the Notch pathway, and suggests that there are additional molecular targets. Nevertheless, the elevated levels of Su(H) in the dBre1 mutant clones identify Su(H) as one molecular target of dBre1 and suggest that, in the wild-type, dBre1 may expose Su(H) to ubiquitin-mediated degradation. The effects on Su(H) are consistent with the cell-autonomous action of dBre1 on Notch target gene expression, but the fact that removal of dBre1 has a stabilizing effect on Su(H) appears to contradict its stimulating effect on Notch-dependent transcription. Since Su(H) functions as both a repressor and an activator, this may be explained if loss of dBre1 specifically stabilizes the repressor complex. Alternatively, the effect of dBre1 mutations on Su(H) may reflect an indirect bystander activity of dBre1 (Bray, 2005).

Finally, it was asked whether dBre1 has a similar molecular function as its relative yeast Bre1p. The latter is required for the monoubiquitination of histone H2B, which is a prerequisite for the subsequent methylation of histone H3 at K4 by SET1-containing complexes. H3K4 methylation appears to be a chromatin mark for transcriptionally active genes, and yeast bre1p mutants show defects in the transcription of inducible genes that have been ascribed to the lack of H2B ubiquitination and H3K4 methylation at the promoters of these genes. Since there are no in vitro assays for H2B ubiquitination and no antibodies that detect this modified form of H2B, effects of dBre1 mutations on the linked H3K4 methylation were investigated. Wing discs bearing dBre1 mutant clones were stained with an antibody specific for trimethylated H3K4 (H3K4m). This revealed a significant reduction of H3K4m in P1541 mutant clones. More strikingly, in clones of the stronger E132 allele, H3K4m is barely detectable. In contrast, staining of these clones with an antibody against H3K9m does not show any changes in the mutant territory, indicating that the effect in dBre1 mutant clones on the methylation of H3K4 is relatively specific. It is noted that, in wild-type wing discs, there is slight modulation of trimethylated H3K4, with higher levels at the dorsoventral boundary where Notch is activated. However, Notch mutant cells retain robust H3K4m staining, although occasionally show slightly lowered levels compared to adjacent wild-type cells. Thus, the reduced H3K4m staining in dBre1 mutant cells is primarily due to an activity loss of dBre1 rather than due to loss of Notch signaling. Based on its effects on tri-methylated H3K4, it is concluded that dBre1 is indeed the functional homolog of yeast Bre1p. Furthermore, it appears that the activity of dBre1 is essential for the bulk of trimethylated H3K4 in imaginal disc cells (Bray, 2005).

In yeast, H2B ubiquitination and H3K4 methylation are associated with sites of active transcription, but the only identified natural target gene is GAL1. In Drosophila, the target genes of dBre1 evidently include genes regulated by Notch, given the requirement of dBre1 for their transcription. It is therefore conceivable that Su(H) may have a role in targeting dBre1 to their promoters (although it was not possible to detect direct binding or coimmunoprecipitation between dBre1 and Su(H). It is puzzling that dBre1 has a slight destabilizing effect on Su(H), despite being an activating component of Notch signaling. It is believed that this could be a bystander effect of dBre1: evidence suggests that the Bre1p-mediated monoubiquitination of H2B leads to a transient recruitment of proteasome subunits to chromatin, and that the subsequent methylation of H3K4 depends on the activity of these proteasome subunits. Their transient presence at specific target genes may have a destabilizing effect on nearby DNA binding proteins, and the mildly increased levels of Su(H) in dBre1 mutant cells could therefore reflect a failure of proteasome recruitment due to loss of H2B monoubiquitination (Bray, 2005).

Perhaps the most interesting implication of the results is that the dBre1-mediated monoubiquitination of H2B and methylation of H3K4 may be critical steps in the transcription of Notch target genes. Indeed, it appears that the Notch target genes belong to a group of genes whose transcription is particularly susceptible to the much reduced levels of H3K4m in dBre1 mutant cells. Based on the dBre1 mutant phenotypes, there are likely to be other genes in this group, including for example genes controlling cell survival and cell size. Nevertheless, it would appear that the transcription of Notch target genes is particularly reliant on the activity of dBre1. Other examples are emerging where the transcriptional activity of a subset of signal responsive genes is particularly sensitive to the function of a particular chromatin modifying and/or remodelling factor. This sensitivity presumably reflects the molecular mechanisms used by signaling pathways to activate transcription at their responsive enhancers. Understanding why Notch-induced transcription is particularly susceptible to loss of dBre1 function will require knowledge of these underlying molecular mechanisms (Bray, 2005).

Drosophila stem cells share a common requirement for the histone H2B ubiquitin protease scrawny: Scrawny interacts with PAF1 and likely opposes BRE1 action on H2B thus participating in a conserved pathway of chromatin regulation linking H2B ubiquitylation with H3K4me3 methylation

Stem cells within diverse tissues share the need for a chromatin configuration that promotes self-renewal, yet few chromatin proteins are known to regulate multiple types of stem cells. A Drosophila gene, scrawny (scny), encoding a ubiquitin-specific protease, is required in germline, epithelial, and intestinal stem cells. Like its yeast relative UBP10, Scrawny deubiquitylates histone H2B and functions in gene silencing. Consistent with previous studies of this conserved pathway of chromatin regulation, scny mutant cells have elevated levels of ubiquitinylated H2B and trimethylated H3K4. These findings suggest that inhibiting H2B ubiquitylation through scny represents a common mechanism within stem cells that is used to repress the premature expression of key differentiation genes, including Notch target genes (Buszczak, 2009).

Stem cells are maintained in an undifferentiated state by signals they receive within the niche and are subsequently guided toward particular fates upon niche exit. Within ES cells and during differentiation, cell state changes are controlled at the level of chromatin by alterations involving higher order nucleosome packaging and histone tail modifications. Polycomb group (PcG) and Trithorax group (trxG) genes influence key histone methylation events at the promoters of target genes, including H3K27 and H3K4 modifications associated with gene repression and activation, respectively, but few other genes with a specific role in stem cells are known (Buszczak, 2009).

Histone H2A and H2B mono-ubiquitylation play fundamental roles in chromatin regulation, and H2A ubiquitylation has been linked to PcG-mediated gene repression and stem cell maintenance. The mammalian Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) component RING1B is a H2A ubiquitin ligase that is required to block the elongation of poised RNA polymerase II on bivalent genes in ES cells. Mutations in the PRC1 component, BMI-1, the ortholog of Psc in the mammalian PRC1, complexes with RING1B, and causes multiple types of adult stem cells to be prematurely lost. The role of H2B ubiquitylation in stem cells is unclear, however. In yeast, ubiquitylation of Histone H2B by the RAD6 and BRE1 ligases controls H3K4 methylation (H3K4me3), a process that requires the polymerase accessory factor PAF1. Conversely, H2B deubiquitylation by the ubiquitin-specific protease (USP) family member UBP10 is required for silencing telomeres, rDNA and other loci. The Drosophila homolog of BRE1, dBRE1, also is needed for H3K4 methylation, suggesting that this pathway is conserved. Furthermore, the Drosophila ubiquitin-specific protease USP7 is part of a complex that selectively deubiquitylates H2B and genetically interacts with PcG mutations. Mutations in another USP family member, Nonstop, increase H2B ubiquitylation and cause axon targeting defects in the eye (Buszczak, 2009).

In order to gain further insight into the role of H2B ubiquitylation in stem cells, a novel Drosophila gene, scrawny (scny) (CG5505), was identified, whose encoded USP family protein shares homology with human USP36 and among yeast USPs closely matches UBP10 within the core protease domain. Strains bearing scny insertions, except for a viable GFP protein trap (CA06690), were female sterile or lethal, and proved to be allelic. Transposon excision or expression of a scny-RB cDNA reverts the phenotype of tested alleles. An anti-SCNY antibody raised against a domain common to all SCNY isoforms recognizes wild type and SCNY-GFP on a Western blot. SCNY protein levels in homozygous third instar larvae are greatly reduced in lethal mutants, and SCNY expression is also lower in stem cell-enriched ovarian tissue from adults homozygous for the sterile d06513 allele. Consistent with a role in gene silencing, several scny mutations act as dominant suppressors of position effect variegation (Buszczak, 2009).

Further studies strongly suggested that SCNY functions in vivo as an H2B-ubiquitin protease. Recombinant full-length SCNY protein, but not a version bearing a point mutation in the protease domain, efficiently deubiquitylates histone H2B in vitro. scnyf01742 homozygous tissue contains levels of Ub-H2B that are elevated at least twofold compared to wild type. As expected if Ub-H2B is required for H3K4 methylation, clones of homozygous scnye00340 mutant cells stain more strongly for H3K4me3 than heterozygous cells. Consistent with a direct rather than an indirect action on Ub-H2B levels, anti-SCNY antibodies co-immunoprecipitate H2B from Drosophila embryonic nuclear extracts. Moreover, epitope-tagged SCNY co-immunoprecipitates Drosophila PAF1, but not Cyclin T (or several other tested chromatin proteins) when co-expressed in S2 tissue culture cells. Together, these data support the view that SCNY participates in a conserved pathway of chromatin regulation linking H2B ubiquitylation with H3K4me3 methylation. Because the effects of scny mutation on Ub-H2B and H3K4me3 are opposite to those of dBre1 mutation, SCNY likely opposes dBRE1 action on H2B, just as UBP10 opposes BRE1 action on H2B in yeast (Buszczak, 2009).

Drosophila male and female gonads contain well characterized germline stem cells (GSCs) that allow the effects of genes on stem cell maintenance to be quantitatively analyzed. High levels of scny expression were observed in female and male GSCs using SCNY-GFP and identical staining was observed using anti-SCNY immunofluoresence. SCNY protein resides in cell nuclei and is enriched in nucleoli. In sterile or semi-fertile scny mutant adults, the numbers of germline stem cells surrounding the testis hub and within germaria were clearly reduced. The half-lives of female GSCs bearing clones of three different scny alleles were all sharply reduced. Later follicular development was also abnormal suggesting that scny continues to function after the stem cell stage. However, previous studies indicate that accelerated GSC loss is a specific phenotype, and hence that scny has a preferential requirement in GSCs (Buszczak, 2009).

A known mechanism of increased GSC loss is the premature activation of differentiation genes. Staining germaria with an antibody specific for multiple sites of histone H3 acetylation (H3-Ac) suggested that scny mutation affects the global chromatin organization of GSCs. Wild type GSCs contain lower levels of H3-Ac than slightly older germ cells within cysts. Presumptive GSCs located in the GSC niche in scny mutants frequently stained more strongly, suggesting that they have begun to upregulate general transcription. Some scny GSC-like cells also expressed bag-of-marbles (bam), a key cystoblast differentiation gene, and GSC-like cells in scnyd06513; bamΔ86 mutant females persist in the germarium . However, it could not be completely ruled out that the observed increases in H3-Ac levels and bam expression were a result rather than a cause of the premature differentiation and loss of scny GSCs (Buszczak, 2009).

To determine if scny is also required in a very different type of stem cell, the epithelial follicle stem cell (FSC), the persistence of individual scny mutant FSCs was quantitatively. The half-life of FSCs mutant for scnyl(3)02331 was reduced more than 10-fold, while the scnyf01742 mutation also caused a sharp decline. However, mutant follicle cells continued to develop normally at later stages. Thus, scny is preferentially required to maintain FSCs as well as GSCs (Buszczak, 2009).

The largest population of Drosophila stem cells are the hundreds of multipotent intestinal stem cells (ISCs) that maintain the adult posterior midgut. ISCs signal to their daughters via Delta-Notch signaling to specify enterocyte vs. enteroendocrine cell fate, but the pathway must remain inactive in the ISCs themselves to avoid differentiation. Most ISCs (those about to produce enterocytes) express high levels of the Notch ligand Delta, allowing them to be specifically distinguished from other diploid gut cells. This study found that SCNY-GFP is expressed in ISCs suggesting that SCNY plays a role in these stem cells as well. While 7-day old normal adult midguts contain a high density of ISCs, as revealed by Delta staining, it was found that corresponding tissue from 7-day-old scnyf01742 or scnyf01742/scnyl(3)02331 escaper adults possess very few Delta-positive cells. ISCs are present in near normal numbers at eclosion, but are rapidly lost in the mutant adults, indicating that scny is required for ISC maintenance (Buszczak, 2009).

It is suspected that inappropriate Notch pathway activation was responsible for the premature ISC loss in scny mutants. dBre1 mutations strongly reduce Notch signaling, suggesting that Notch target genes are particularly dependent on H2B mono-ubiquitylation and H3K4 methylation. Consequently, scny mutations, which have the opposite effects on Ub-H2B and H3K4me3 levels, might upregulate Notch target genes, stimulating ISCs to differentiate prematurely. This idea was tested by supplementing the food of newly eclosed scnyf01742/scnyl(3)02331 adults with 8 mM DAPT, a gamma-secretase inhibitor that blocks Notch signaling and phenocopies Notch mutation when fed to wild type animals. scnyf01742/scnyl(3)02331 DAPT-treated adults remained healthy and the guts of 7-day old animals still contained many ISCs, although not as many as wild type. Tumors like those produced in wild type animals fed DAPT were not observed. Thus, in these animals endogenous stem cell loss can be slowed by drug treatment (Buszczak, 2009).

These experiments provide strong evidence that a pathway involving the ubiquitin protease Scrawny and the ubiquitin ligase dBRE1 controls the levels of Ub-H2B, and H3K4me3 at multiple target sites in the Drosophila genome. Although, other ubiquitin proteases also act on Ub-H2B in Drosophila, the direct interaction between SCNY and H2B, and the strong effects of scny mutations argue that it plays an essential, direct role in silencing genomic regions critical for cellular differentiation, including Notch target genes. SCNY interacts with the RNA polymerase accessory factor complex component, PAF1. Upregulation of H2B ubiquitinylation and H3 methylation in yeast is mediated by the PAF1 complex and is associated with elongating RNA Pol II. Drosophila PAF1 is required for normal levels of H3K4me3 at the hsp70 gene, and another PAF1 complex member, RTF1, is needed for H3K4 methylation and Notch target gene expression. Indeed, the pathway connecting Ub-H2B, H3K4me3 and gene silencing appears to be conserved in organisms as distant as Arabidopsis. A human protein closely related to SCNY, USP36, is overexpressed in ovarian cancer cells, and the results suggest it may act as an oncogene by suppressing differentiation (Buszczak, 2009).

Above all, these experiments indicate that SCNY-mediated H2B deubiquitylation is required to maintain multiple Drosophila stem cells, including progenitors of germline, epithelial and endodermal lineages. In ES cells and presumably in adult stem cells, many differentiation genes contain promoter-bound, arrested RNA Pol II and are associated with Polycomb group proteins. It is envisioned that in the niche environment SCNY activity overrides that of dBRE1, keeping levels of Ub-H2B (and hence H3K4me3) low at key differentiation genes. Upon exit from the niche, the balance of signals shifts to favor H2B ubiquitylation, H3K4 trimethylation, and target gene activation. Thus, the control of H2B ubiquitylation, like H2A ubiquitylation, plays a fundamental interactive role in maintaining the chromatin environment of the stem cell state (Buszczak, 2009).

Linking H3K79 trimethylation to Wnt signaling through a novel Dot1-containing complex

Epigenetic modifications of chromatin play an important role in the regulation of gene expression. KMT4/Dot1 is a conserved histone methyltransferase capable of methylating chromatin on Lys79 of histone H3 (H3K79). This study reports the identification of a multisubunit Dot1 complex (DotCom), which includes several of the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) partners in leukemia such as ENL, AF9/MLLT3, AF17/MLLT6, and AF10/MLLT10, as well as the known Wnt pathway modifiers TRRAP, Skp1, and β-catenin. The human DotCom is indeed capable of trimethylating H3K79 and, given the association of β-catenin, Skp1, and TRRAP, a role was sought for Dot1 in Wnt/Wingless signaling in an in vivo model system. Knockdown of Dot1 in Drosophila (Grappa) results in decreased expression of a subset of Wingless target genes. Furthermore, the loss of expression for the Drosophila homologs of the Dot1-associated proteins involved in the regulation of H3K79 shows a similar reduction in expression of these Wingless targets. From yeast to human, specific trimethylation of H3K79 by Dot1 requires the monoubiquitination of histone H2B by the Rad6/Bre1 complex. This study demonstrates that depletion of Bre1, the E3 ligase required for H2B monoubiquitination, leads specifically to reduced bulk H3K79 trimethylation levels and a reduction in expression of many Wingless targets. Overall, this study describes for the first time the components of DotCom and links the specific regulation of H3K79 trimethylation by Dot1 and its associated factors to the Wnt/Wingless signaling pathway (Mohan, 2010).

In eukaryotic organisms, gene expression patterns are spatiotemporally regulated in a manner that allows for specification of diverse cell types and their differentiation. This spatiotemporal expression is coordinated in part by transcription factors and chromatin modifiers, and by the activity of several signaling pathways, which contribute to gene expression by regulating the transcription factors. Understanding the relationship between chromatin events and signaling pathways is crucial to understanding gene regulation, development of the organism, and disease pathogenesis (Mohan, 2010).

The nucleosome, the basic unit of chromatin, consists of histones H2A, H2B, H3, and H4, and 146 base pairs (bp) of DNA. Crystal structure studies have demonstrated that the N-terminal tails of each histone protrude outward from the core of the nucleosome. These histone tails are subject to various post-translational modifications, including methylation, ubiquitination, ADP ribosylation, acetylation, phosphorylation, and sumoylation, and such modifications are involved in many biological processes involving chromatin such as transcription, genome stability, replication, and repair (Mohan, 2010).

Histones are methylated on either the lysine and/or arginine residues by different histone methyltransferases (HMTases). Histone lysine methylation can occur as mono-, di-, or trimethylated forms, and several lysine residues of histones have been shown to be multiply methylated. This includes methylation on Lys4, Lys9, Lys27, Lys36, and Lys79 of histone H3, and Lys20 of histone H4. Almost all of the lysine HMTases characterized to date contain a SET domain, named after Drosophila Su(var)3-9, Enhancer of zeste [E(z)], and trithorax (trx). SET domain-containing enzymes can catalyze the methylation of specific lysines on histones H3 and H4, and many SET domain-containing enzymes, such as Trithorax and Enhancer of zeste, are central players in epigenetic regulation and development (Mohan, 2010).

Histone H3 at Lys79 (H3K79) can be mono-, di-, and trimethylated by Dot1, which to date is the only characterized non-SET domain-containing lysine HMTase. Dot1 is conserved from yeast to humans. In yeast, telomeric silencing is lost when Dot1 is overexpressed or inactivated, as well as when H3K79 is mutated. Unlike other histone methylation patterns, the pattern of di- and trimethylation of H3K79 in yeast appears to be nonoverlapping. It was also first discovered in yeast that monoubiquitination of histone H2B on Lys123 (H2BK123) by the Rad6/Bre1 complex is required for proper H3K79 trimethylation by Dot1. In vivo analysis of the pattern of H2B monoubiquitination in yeast demonstrated that the H3K79 trimethylation pattern overlaps with that of H2B monoubiquitination, and that the H3K79 dimethylation pattern and H2B monoubiquitination appear to be nonoverlapping. This observation resulted in the proposal that the recruitment of the Rad6/Bre1 complex and the subsequent H2B monoubiquitination could dictate diversity between H3K79 di- and trimethylation on chromatin on certain loci within the genome. In addition to a role in the regulation of telomeric silencing in yeast, Dot1 has also been shown to be involved in meiotic checkpoint control and in double-strand break repair via sister chromatid recombination. A relationship has been found between cell cycle progression and H3K79 dimethylation, but not trimethylation, by Dot1. Consequently, to date, very little is known about a specific biological role of histone H3K79 trimethylation (Mohan, 2010).

In Drosophila, H3K79 methylation levels correlate with gene activity. Mutations in grappa, the Dot1 ortholog in Drosophila, show not only the loss of silencing, but also Polycomb and Trithorax-group phenotypes, indicating a key role for H3K79 methylation in the regulation of gene activity during development. Similarly, Dot1 in mammals has been implicated in the embryonic development of mice, including a role in the structural integrity of heterochromatin. Genome-wide profiling studies in various mammalian cell lines have suggested that Dot1 as well as H3K79me2 and H3K79me3 localize to the promoter-proximal regions of actively transcribed genes, and correlate well with high levels of gene transcription (Steger, 2008). It has also been proposed that Dot1 HMTase activity is required for leukemia pathogenesis (Mohan, 2010 and references therein).

The highly conserved Wnt/Wingless (Wnt/Wg) signaling pathway is essential for regulating developmental processes, including cell proliferation, organogenesis, and body axis formation. Deregulation or ectopic expression of members of the Wnt pathway has been associated with the development of various types of cancers, including acute myeloid and B-cell leukemias. In the canonical Wnt/Wg pathway, a cytoplasmic multiprotein scaffold consisting of Glycogen synthase kinase 3-β (GSK3-β), Adenomatous polyposis coli (APC), Casein kinase 1 (CK1), Protein phosphatase 2A, and Axin constitutively marks newly synthesized β-catenin/Armadillo for degradation by phosphorylation at the key N-terminal Ser and Thr residues. Binding of the Wnt ligands to the seven-transmembrane domain receptor Frizzled (Fz) leads to recruitment of an adaptor protein, Disheveled (Dvl), from the cytoplasm to the plasma membrane. Axin is then sequestered away from the multiprotein Axin complex, resulting in inhibition of GSK3-β and subsequent stabilization of hypophosphorylated β-catenin levels in the cytoplasm. Stabilized β-catenin translocates into the nucleus and binds to members of the DNA-binding T-cell factor/lymphoid enhancer factor (TCF/LEF) family, resulting in the recruitment of several chromatin-modifying complexes, including transformation/transcription domain-associated protein (TRRAP)/HIV Tat-interacting 60-kDa protein complex (TIP60; see Drosophila Tip60) histone acetyltransferase (HAT), ISWI-containing complexes, and the SET1-type HMTase mixed lineage leukemia 1/2 (MLL1/MLL2) complexes, thereby activating the expression of Wnt/Wg target genes (Mohan, 2010 and references therein).

Although much is known about Dot1 as an H3K79 HMTase, biochemical studies isolating to homogeneity a Dot1-containing complex have not been successful during the past decade. This study reports the first biochemical isolation of a multisubunit complex associated with Dot1, which has been called DotCom. DotCom is comprised of Dot1, AF10, AF17, AF9, ENL, Skp1, TRRAP, and β-catenin. This complex is enzymatically active and can catalyze H3K79 dimethylation and trimethylation. Indeed, nucleosomes containing monoubiquitinated H2B are a better substrate for DotCom in the generation of trimethylated H3K79. Given the association of Skp1, TRRAP, and β-catenin with DotCom, and the fact that these factors have been linked to the Wnt signaling pathway in previous studies, this study investigated the role of the Drosophila homolog of Dot1, dDot1 (Grappa), for the regulation of Wg target genes. RNAi of dDot1 leads to a reduced expression of a subset of Wg target genes, including senseless, a high-threshold Wingless target gene. Furthermore, reduction by RNAi in the levels of the Drosophila homologs of other components of DotCom that regulate the pattern of H3K79 methylation in humans also showed a similar reduction in senseless expression and other Wg target genes. Importantly, DotCom requires monoubiquitination of H2B for H3K79 trimethylation, and, in Drosophila, the loss of Bre1, the E3 ubiquitin ligase, leads to reduction of H3K79 trimethylation and decreased expression of the senseless gene. Taken together, these data support a model in which monoubiquitinated H2B provides a regulatory platform for a novel Dot1 complex to mediate H3K79 trimethylation, which is required for the proper transcriptional control of Wnt/Wg target genes (Mohan, 2010).

Although H3K79 methylation is a ubiquitous mark associated with actively transcribed genes, and its presence is a clear indicator for the elongating form of RNA polymerase II, Dot1 itself has a very low abundance and is very hard to detect in cells. This indicates that Dot1 is an active enzyme with a very high specific activity toward its substrate, H3K79. Due to the low abundance of Dot1 in cells, its molecular isolation and biochemical purification have been hindered for the past decade. This study reports the biochemical isolation of a Dot1-containing complex (DotCom) and demonstrate a specific link between H3K79 trimethylation by DotCom and the Wnt signaling pathway. The study reports (1) the identification and biochemical isolation of a large macromolecular complex (~2 MDa) containing human Dot1, in association with human AF10, AF17, AF9, ENL, Skp1, TRRAP, and β-catenin; (2) the biochemical demonstration that the human DotCom is capable of trimethylating H3K79, and the analysis of the role of histone H2B monoubiquitination in the enhancement of this H3K79 trimethylase activity of the human DotCom; (3) identification of the role of the components of DotCom in the regulation of its H3K79 methylase activity; (4) demonstration of a role for the Drosophila homolog of Dot1 and its associated factors in the Wnt signaling pathway; and, finally, (5) the identification of a specific requirement of H3K79 trimethylation, but not mono- or dimethylation, in the regulation of Wnt target transcription, thereby linking H3K79 trimethylation to Wnt signaling (Mohan, 2010).

Dot1 was initially isolated from yeast, and these studies demonstrated that the enzyme is capable of mono-, di-, and trimethylating H3K79. Subsequent molecular and biochemical studies demonstrated that prior H2B monoubiquitination by the Rad6/Bre1 complex is required for proper H3K79 trimethylation by yeast Dot1. A recent analysis of the human homolog of Dot1 suggested that its HMTase domain is not capable of trimethylating H3K79, and that this enzyme can only dimethylate its substrate. It has also been demonstrated that reconstitution of monoubiquitinated H2B into chemically defined nucleosomes, followed by enzymatic treatment with Dot1, resulted only in dimethylation of H3K79. Since these observations are in contrast with the published studies in yeast, this study tested the enzymatic activity of purified human DotCom toward monoubiquitinated and nonmonoubiquitinated nucleosomes. The studies demonstrate that the human DotCom can indeed trimethylate H3K79, and that monoubiquitination of histone H2B enhances this enzymatic property of the human DotCom. Since the enzymatic studies employ antibodies generated toward mono-, di-, and trimethylated H3K79 to identify the products of the enzymatic reactions containing human Dot1, it was important to make certain that the observations are not the result of cross-reactivity between these antibodies. Therefore recombinant nucleosomes were generated and treated with human Dot1 in the presence and absence of SAM, and the products were analyzed by MS. The chemical analysis of the products from this enzymatic reaction confirmed that human Dot1 is capable of trimethylating H3K79. The hDot1-treated nucleosome samples were digested with Endoproteinase Arg-C because previous unpublished work on analyzing yeast histone modifications by MudPIT had shown that the trimethylated peptide containing H3K79 was not detected when digesting with trypsin. Notably, McGinty (2008) performed their digestions with trypsin, which might explain their failure to detect this modification by MS (Mohan, 2010).

These studies identified several factors—including ENL, AF9, AF17, AF10, SKP1, TRA1/TRAPP, and β-catenin—as components of the human DotCom. To test the role of these factors in regulating Dot1’s catalytic activity, their levels were reduced via RNAi. These studies demonstrated that AF10 functions with Dot1 to regulate its catalytic properties in vivo. Significant differences in Dot1’s H3K79 HMTase activity were not detected in vivo when reducing the levels of ENL, AF9, and AF17. Factors that significantly alter the H3K79 methylation pattern by Dot1 are also linked to its transcriptional regulatory functions at Wnt target genes (Mohan, 2010).

Since Dot1 also appears to interact with β-catenin, and given the known role for β-catenin, Skp1, and TRRAP in the Wnt signaling pathway, the role for Dot1 and the components of its complex were tested in Wnt signaling. Drosophila is an outstanding model system for the study of the Wnt signaling pathway. Given the power of genetics and biochemistry in Drosophila, the role of dDot1 and the members of its complex in wingless signaling were tested. From this study, it was learned that down-regulation of Drosophila Dot1 and Drosophila AF10 had the most significant effects in the regulation in the expression of the Wg target senseless. Given the fact that the molecular studies demonstrated that Dot1 and AF10 have the strongest effect in the regulation of H3K79 methylation in vivowe wanted to determine whether a specific form of H3K79 methylation is required for Wnt target gene expression was tested (Mohan, 2010).

Histone H2B monoubiquitination is required for proper H3K79 trimethylation. The E2/E3 complex Rad6/Bre1 is required for the proper implementation of H2B monoubiquitination on chromatin, and this complex is highly conserved from yeast to humans. Deletion of the Drosophila homolog of Bre1 results in the loss of H2B monoubiquitination and the specific loss of H3K79 trimethylation. Interestingly, reduction in the levels of H3K79 trimethylation results in a defect in expression of one of the Wnt target genes, senseless, although the H3K79 mono- and dimethylation in this mutant background appear to be normal. In addition to senseless, the role of H3K79 methylation at other Wnt targets was tested, and the same effect was observed for Notum and CG6234. Overall, these studies demonstrate a link between H3K79 trimethylation by the DotCom and the Wnt signaling pathway (Mohan, 2010).

Wnt/Wg signaling serves a critical role in tissue development, proliferation of progenitor cells, and many human cancers. The key player in the Wnt pathway is β-catenin, which is shuttled into the nucleus at the onset of activation of the pathway. Various proteins that interact with β-catenin in the nucleus—such as CBP/p300, TRRAP, MLL1/MLL2, Brg1, telomerase, Hyrax, Pygopus, and CDK8—modulate the transcriptional output of Wg/Wnt target genes. These proteins probably provide the context specificity to Wnt response directing proliferation or differentiation effects of Wnt signaling. The finding that dDotCom is required for expression of a subset of Wg targets suggests that dDotCom might also facilitate Wg-regulated programs of transcriptional regulation in specific contexts. As most human cancers have elevated levels of Wnt signaling and require Wnt signaling for continued proliferation, DotCom might play a role in supporting the high rate of expression of Wnt target genes in such cancers (Mohan, 2010).

Several studies have found interactions between Dot1 and many translocation partners of MLL. While these associations suggest a link between Dot1 methylation and leukemogenesis, it was not clear how Dot1 methylation would participate in this process. Recently, GSK3, a regulator of β-catenin and Wnt signaling, was found to be essential for proliferation of MLL-transformed cells and for progression of a mouse model of MLL-based leukemia (Wang, 2008). These studies linking Dot1 H3K79me3 with Wnt signaling provide insight into the role of Wnt signaling and Dot1 methylation in MLL translocation-based leukemia (Mohan, 2010). D: 25415640

dRYBP counteracts chromatin-dependent activation and repression of transcription

Chromatin dependent activation and repression of transcription is regulated by the histone modifying enzymatic activities of the trithorax (trxG) and Polycomb (PcG) proteins. To investigate the mechanisms underlying their mutual antagonistic activities this study analyzed the function of Drosophila Ring and YY1 Binding Protein (dRYBP), a conserved PcG- and trxG-associated protein. dRYBP is ubiquitylated and binds ubiquitylated proteins. Additionally dRYBP was shown to maintain H2A monoubiquitylation, H3K4 monomethylation and H3K36 dimethylation levels and does not affect H3K27 trimethylation levels. Further it was shown that dRYBP interacts with the repressive SCE (Ring) and dKDM2 (Lysine (K)-specific demethylase 2) proteins as well as the activating dBRE1 protein. Analysis of homeotic phenotypes and post-translationally modified histones levels show that dRYBP antagonizes dKDM2 and dBRE1 functions by respectively preventing H3K36me2 demethylation and H2B monoubiquitylation. Interestingly, the results show that inactivation of dBRE1 produces trithorax-like related homeotic transformations, suggesting that dBRE1 functions in the regulation of homeotic genes expression. These findings indicate that dRYBP regulates morphogenesis by counteracting transcriptional repression and activation. Thus, they suggest that dRYBP may participate in the epigenetic plasticity important during normal and pathological development (Fereres, 2014).


Search PubMed for articles about Drosophila Bre1

Bray, S., Musisi, H. and Bienz, M. (2005). Bre1 is required for Notch signaling and histone modification. Dev. Cell 8(2): 279-86. PubMed ID: 15691768

Buszczak, M., Paterno, S. and Spradling, A. C. (2009). Drosophila stem cells share a common requirement for the histone H2B ubiquitin protease scrawny. Science 323: 248-251. PubMed ID: 19039105

Fereres, S., Simon, R., Mohd-Sarip, A., Verrijzer, C. P. and Busturia, A. (2014). dRYBP counteracts chromatin-dependent activation and repression of transcription. PLoS One 9: e113255. PubMed ID: 25415640

Hwang, W. W., et al. (2003). A conserved RING finger protein required for histone H2B monoubiquitination and cell size control. Mol. Cell 11: 261-266. PubMed ID: 12535538

Mohan, M., et al. (2010). Linking H3K79 trimethylation to Wnt signaling through a novel Dot1-containing complex (DotCom). Genes Dev. 24(6): 574-89. PubMed ID: 20203130

Wood, A., et al. (2003). Bre1, an E3 ubiquitin ligase required for recruitment and substrate selection of Rad6 at a promoter. Mol. Cell 11: 267-274. PubMed ID: 12535539

Biological Overview

date revised: 10 August 2010

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