InteractiveFly: GeneBrief

PHD finger protein 7 ortholog : Biological Overview | References

Gene name - PHD finger protein 7 ortholog

Synonyms -

Cytological map position - 19B3-19C1

Function - chromatin factor

Keywords - spermatogenesis, histone code reader

Symbol - Phf7

FlyBase ID: FBgn0031091

Genetic map position - chrX:20054423-20059911

Classification - PHD-like zinc-binding domain

Cellular location - nuclear

NCBI link: EntrezGene

Phf7 orthologs: Biolitmine
Recent literature
Wang, X. R., Ling, L. B., Huang, H. H., Lin, J. J., Fugmann, S. D. and Yang, S. Y. (2017). Evidence for parallel evolution of a gene involved in the regulation of spermatogenesis. Proc Biol Sci 284(1855). PubMed ID: 28539513
PHD finger protein 7 (Phf7) is a male germline specific gene in Drosophila melanogaster that can trigger the male germline sexual fate and regulate spermatogenesis, and its human homologue can rescue fecundity defects in male flies lacking this gene. These findings prompted an investigation of conservation of reproductive strategies through studying the evolutionary origin of this gene. Phf7 was found to be present only in select species including mammals and some insects, whereas the closely related G2/M-phase specific E3 ubiquitin protein ligase (G2e3) is in the genome of most metazoans. Interestingly, phylogenetic analyses showed that vertebrate and insect Phf7 genes did not evolve from a common Phf7 ancestor but rather through independent duplication events from an ancestral G2e3. This is an example of parallel evolution in which a male germline factor evolved at least twice from a pre-existing template to develop new regulatory mechanisms of spermatogenesis.
Yang, S. Y., Chang, Y. C., Wan, Y. H., Whitworth, C., Baxter, E. M., Primus, S., Pi, H. and Van Doren, M. (2017). Control of a novel spermatocyte-promoting factor by the male germline sex determination factor PHF7 of Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed ID: 28588035
A key aspect of germ cell development is to establish germline sexual identity and initiate a sex-specific developmental program to promote spermatogenesis or oogenesis. The histone reader Plant Homeodomain Finger 7 (PHF7) has been identified as an important regulator of male germline identity. To understand how PHF7 directs sexual differentiation of the male germline, this study investigated the downstream targets of PHF7 by combining transcriptome analyses, which reveal genes regulated by Phf7, with genomic profiling of histone H3K4me2, the chromatin mark that is bound by PHF7. Through these genomic experiments, a novel spermatocyte factor Receptor Accessory Protein Like 1 (REEPL1) was identified that can promote spermatogenesis and whose expression is kept off by PHF7 in the spermatogonial stage. Loss of Reepl1 significantly rescues the spermatogenesis defects in Phf7 mutants, indicating that regulation of Reepl1 is an essential aspect of PHF7 function. Further, increasing REEPL1 expression facilitates spermatogenic differentiation. These results indicate that PHF7 controls spermatogenesis by regulating the expression patterns of important male germline genes.
Molnar, C., Heinen, J. P., Reina, J., Llamazares, S., Palumbo, E., Breschi, A., Gay, M., Villarreal, L., Vilaseca, M., Pollarolo, G. and Gonzalez, C. (2019). The histone code reader PHD finger protein 7 controls sex-linked disparities in gene expression and malignancy in Drosophila. Sci Adv 5(8): eaaw7965. PubMed ID: 31453329
The notable male predominance across many human cancer types remains unexplained. This study shows that Drosophila l(3)mbt brain tumors are more invasive and develop as malignant neoplasms more often in males than in females. By quantitative proteomics, a signature of proteins was identified that are differentially expressed between male and female tumor samples. Prominent among them is the conserved chromatin reader PHD finger protein 7 (Phf7). Phf7 depletion reduces sex-dependent differences in gene expression and suppresses the enhanced malignant traits of male tumors. These results identify potential regulators of sex-linked tumor dimorphism and show that these genes may serve as targets to suppress sex-linked malignant traits.
Smolko, A. E., Shapiro-Kulnane, L. and Salz, H. K. (2020). An autoregulatory switch in sex-specific phf7 transcription causes loss of sexual identity and tumors in the Drosophila female germline. Development 147(17). PubMed ID: 32816970
Maintenance of germ cell sexual identity is essential for reproduction. Entry into the spermatogenesis or oogenesis pathway requires that the appropriate gene network is activated and the antagonist network is silenced. For example, in Drosophila female germ cells, forced expression of the testis-specific PHD finger protein 7 (PHF7) disrupts oogenesis, leading to either an agametic or germ cell tumor phenotype. This study shows that PHF7-expressing ovarian germ cells inappropriately express hundreds of genes, many of which are male germline genes. The majority of genes under PHF7 control in female germ cells are not under PHF7 control in male germ cells, suggesting that PHF7 is acting in a tissue-specific manner. Remarkably, transcriptional reprogramming includes a positive autoregulatory feedback mechanism in which ectopic PHF7 overcomes its own transcriptional repression through promoter switching. Furthermore, it was found that tumorigenic capacity is dependent on the dosage of phf7 This study reveals that ectopic PHF7 in female germ cells leads to a loss of sexual identity and the promotion of a regulatory circuit that is beneficial for tumor initiation and progression.

Establishment of germline sexual identity is critical for production of male and female germline stem cells, as well as sperm versus eggs. This study identified PHD Finger Protein 7 (PHF7) as an important factor for male germline sexual identity in Drosophila. PHF7 exhibits male-specific expression in early germ cells, germline stem cells, and spermatogonia. It is important for germline stem cell maintenance and gametogenesis in males, whereas ectopic expression in female germ cells ablates the germline. Strikingly, expression of PHF7 promotes spermatogenesis in XX germ cells when they are present in a male soma. PHF7 homologs are also specifically expressed in the mammalian testis, and human PHF7 rescues Drosophila Phf7 mutants. PHF7 associates with chromatin, and both the human and fly proteins bind histone H3 N-terminal tails with a preference for dimethyl lysine 4 (H3K4me2). It is proposed that PHF7 acts as a conserved epigenetic 'reader' that activates the male germline sexual program (Yang, 2012).

Sex determination is key to sexual reproduction, and both somatic cells and germ cells need to establish sex-specific developmental fates. Germline sexual development is essential for the production of two distinct gametes, and underlies important differences in the regulation of male versus female fertility. In some species, germline stem cells are present in both males and females to sustain constant gamete production, but are regulated differently throughout development. In other species such as humans, sex-specific germ cell development produces a germline stem cell population only in males, whereas females have a much more limited capacity in making eggs. Defects in germline sexual development lead to a failure in gametogenesis, thus the study of germline sex determination is essential for understanding normal reproductive potential and treating infertility (Yang, 2012).

In some animals, such as mammals and Drosophila, the sex chromosome compositions of the soma and germline are interpreted independently, and the 'sex' of the germline must match that of the soma for proper germ cell development to occur. For example, patients with Klinefelter's Syndrome have an XXY sex chromosome constitution and are almost always infertile. These individuals develop somatically as males due to the presence of a Y chromosome but the germline suffers from severe atrophy, including the loss of premeiotic germline and germline stem cells. This is due to the presence of two X chromosomes in the germ cells, as the limited spermatogenesis in these patients is from germ cells that have lost one of the X chromosomes. In Drosophila, XX females that are somatically transformed into males exhibit a similar germline loss due to a conflict in sexual identity between the masculinized soma and XX germline. Thus, fruit flies are a valuable model organism for studying how germ cells establish a proper sexual identity by coordinating intrinsic signals and those coming from the soma (Yang, 2012).

In Drosophila, the presence of two X chromosomes promotes female somatic identity by activating an alternative splicing cascade that acts through Sex lethal (SXL) and Transformer (TRA), and ultimately leads to production of either the male or female forms of the transcription factors Doublesex (DSX) and Fruitless (FRU). DSX and FRU are responsible for virtually all sexually dimorphic somatic traits in Drosophila, with DSX being the key factor in the somatic gonad. In contrast, the germline does not determine its sex with this cascade and factors like TRA and DSX are not required in germ cells. Although SXL is required to promote female germ cell identity, its targets and mechanism of action in the germline are not known. The transcription factor OVO and the ubiquitin protease Ovarian Tumor (OTU) are also required in the female germline and thought to function upstream of SXL. Even less is known about how sexual identity is specified in male germ cells. Male germ cells receive a signal through the JAK/STAT pathway that promotes their sexual identity, but the downstream factors that are subsequently activated are not known. Similarly, how male germ cells respond to their own sex chromosome constitution is also not known (Yang, 2012).

This study reports a histone code reader, Plant Homeodomain (PHD) Finger 7 (PHF7), that acts in the Drosophila germline to promote male sexual identity. PHF7 is specifically expressed in male germ cells from early stages of development and is restricted to male germline stem cells (GSCs) and spermatogonia. Phf7 is required for GSC maintenance and proper entry into spermatogenesis. Interestingly, expression of Phf7 in female germ cells causes ablation of the female germline. Moreover, Phf7 affects sexual compatibility between germline and soma. Loss of Phf7 in XY germ cells alleviates the germline loss typically observed when XY germ cells are surrounded by a female soma, and expression of Phf7 can induce spermatogenesis in XX germ cells nurtured by male soma. These findings indicate that Phf7 is an essential factor in determining sexual development in the Drosophila germline, and suggest that activation of the male identity occurs through interaction with the germline epigenome (Yang, 2012).

The data indicate that Phf7 acts to promote a male identity in the germline. Loss of Phf7 function affected male GSC maintenance and spermatogenesis, but had no effect in females. Phf7-mutant GSCs exhibited a more female-like pattern of spectrosome localization, and male (XY) germ cells mutant for Phf7 were more compatible with a female soma than were wild-type male germ cells. Further, expression of PHF7 was able to masculinize the female germline: PHF7 expression induced apoptosis in developing XX germ cells and interacted with mutations in otu in a manner that indicates XX germ cells that express PHF7 are more male-like. Strikingly, PHF7 expression was able to induce spermatogenesis in XX germ cells when they are present in a male soma, something that XX germ cells are normally not able to do. Taken together, these results indicate that Phf7 promotes and is sufficient to induce male identity in the germline (Yang, 2012).

Sex determination is thought to be initiated early during development, and sex-specific differences in the male and female germline are first observed during embryogenesis. The data indicate that Phf7 plays a role in early germline sexual development, rather than a late role to regulate germ cell differentiation and gametogenesis. First, PHF7 expression is observed in the embryonic gonad and, in the adult, PHF7 is found in the GSCs and early gonia and disappears dramatically as gonia transition to spermatocytes. Further, forced PHF7 expression disrupts early female germ cell development, around the time when they are first forming GSCs. Expression of PHF7 after the early cystoblast stage (Bam-Gal4, UAS-Gal4) had no effect on the female germline, indicating that it can only affect early stages of female germ cell development. Phf7 mutants show defects in male GSC behavior and maintenance, and in the initial progression to form spermatocytes, but it is possible that these defects are due to even earlier problems in male sexual identity (Yang, 2012).

Germline sexual identity is determined by both the germ cell sex chromosome constitution and signals from the surrounding soma. Phf7 expression is activated in XX germ cells when in contact with a male soma and repressed in XY germ cells when contacting a female soma. However, in a female somatic environment, XY germ cells are somewhat more likely than XX germ cells to express Phf7, indicating that Phf7 may also respond to the sex chromosome constitution of the germ cells in addition to being regulated by the soma. Further, exogenous expression of Phf7 is required to promote spermatogenesis in XX germ cells when in a male soma. Thus, the Phf7 expression that is normally initiated in such germ cells by the male soma must either not be maintained, or may be insufficient to overcome the influence of the XX sex chromosome genotype (Yang, 2012).

It is likely that Phf7 is not acting alone to control male sexual identity. Phf7 mutant males are still able to undergo spermatogenesis, but at a much reduced capacity. This appears to be the null phenotype for Phf7 as ther mutants have lost significant portions of the coding sequence. Further, when PHF7 is expressed in XX germ cells present in a male soma, these germ cells can undergo spermatogenesis, but the penetrance of this phenotype is low. Interestingly, the rescue of spermatogenesis in these XX germ cells follows an 'all or nothing' pattern; either the rescue is largely complete to give full testes and sperm production, or little rescue is observed. Therefore, there appears to be a threshold that must be crossed to promote male germline sexual identity, and that once this threshold is met, those germ cells either take over the testis, or induce other germ cells to also follow the male pathway. The simplest explanation for both the incomplete block to spermatogenesis in Phf7 mutants and the incomplete rescue of spermatogenesis by Phf7 in XX males is that an additional factor (or factors) exists that promotes male identity in addition to Phf7. Such a factor could function parallel to Phf7 in a single pathway, or represent independent input regarding germline sex determination (e.g., independent signals from the soma that influence germline sex) (Yang, 2012).

PHD fingers, such as those found in PHF7, are best known for their ability to specifically bind histones that have been modified on their N-terminal tails, in particular methylated H3K4. This study shows that both Drosophila and human PHF7 can directly associate with dimethylated H3K4, indicating that PHF7 is indeed a histone code reader. It is uncommon for PHD domains to associate preferentially with H3K4me2 over H3K4me3, but this specificity has been observed previously, and is likely important for how PHF7 modulates expression of its targets. Both di- and trimethylated H3K4 are found at actively transcribed genes, but H3K4me2 is normally localized at the 5′ end of coding sequences, downstream of H3K4me3, which is near promoters. The two marks are also regulated by different demethylases. A few recent studies have started to dissect effects of H3K4me2 on gene transcription, but the exact mechanisms are not well understood. Some PHD finger proteins also contain other domains, such as those that modify histones enzymatically. This does not appear to be the case for PHF7, and the region of homology between PHF7 homologs of different species is restricted to the PHD domains. However, individual PHD fingers can bind modified histone tails independently, and it is yet unclear which PHD finger in PHF7 contacts H3K4me2 and what activities the others might have. The logic of how PHF7 is recruited to specific loci and affects chromatin structure and gene activity are interesting questions for future work (Yang, 2012).

Another point of interest is how a reader of such a common epigenetic mark would have a sex-specific role in regulating male germline identity. It has been observed that mutation of an H3K4me2 demethylase in Caenorhabditis elegans, which leads to increased dimethylation at H3K4, results in ectopic activation of male-specific germline genes (Katz, 2009). A similar mutation in Drosophila causes female germline developmental defects (Szabad, 1988), which may be related to the germline atrophy observed when PHF7 expression was upregulated in female germ cells. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that H3K4me2 has a role in regulating the male germline genome. Interestingly, another germline chromatin factor, No child left behind (NCLB), has been identifed that is expressed in germ cells of both sexes but required for GSC function only in males (Casper, 2011). Thus, NCLB may cooperate with PHF7 in regulating the male GSC transcriptional program (Yang, 2012).

Based on sequence homology, orthologs of Phf7 are present in a wide range of mammalian species. Human and mouse PHF7 share extensive homology to Drosophila PHF7 throughout the N-terminus where the PHD fingers are present, and the results confirm that human PHF7 recognizes H3K4me2, similar to the fly protein. Interestingly, EST profiling indicates strong testis biases for Phf7 expression in many species, including humans, mice, rats, and dogs. Moreover, several studies that performed genome-wide RNA profiling from purified mouse germline populations indicate that mouse Phf7 expression is present in spermatogonia and is further induced in spermatocytes. Remarkably, human PHF7 was able to rescue fecundity defects in male flies mutant for Phf7. Thus, the sequence conservation observed between mammalian and Drosophila Phf7 represents true functional orthology (Yang, 2012).

As in Drosophila, germline sex determination in mouse is regulated at an early stage and is controlled by important signals from the soma, which for the mouse include retinoic acid and FGF9. Such signals regulate the timing of meiotic entry, which is different between the sexes, and also influence sex-specific programs of germline gene expression, such as expression of the key male-specific factor nanos2. Significant changes in germ cell chromatin occur during this critical time in germ cell development, including changes in the H3K4 methylation state. Thus, Phf7 represents a prime candidate for interpreting these chromatin changes in a sex-specific manner to regulate male-specific gene expression. It will be of great interest to determine whether Phf7 plays a critical role in mouse and human male germ cell development, as is proposed for Drosophila (Yang, 2012).

The H3K9 methyltransferase SETDB1 maintains female identity in Drosophila germ cells

The preservation of germ cell sexual identity is essential for gametogenesis. This study shows that H3K9me3-mediated gene silencing is integral to female fate maintenance in Drosophila germ cells. Germ cell specific loss of the H3K9me3 pathway members, the H3K9 methyltransferase SETDB1, WDE, and HP1a, leads to ectopic expression of genes, many of which are normally expressed in testis. SETDB1 controls the accumulation of H3K9me3 over a subset of these genes without spreading into neighboring loci. At phf7, a regulator of male germ cell sexual fate, the H3K9me3 peak falls over the silenced testis-specific transcription start site. Furthermore, H3K9me3 recruitment to phf7 and repression of testis-specific transcription is dependent on the female sex determination gene Sxl. Thus, female identity is secured by an H3K9me3 epigenetic pathway in which Sxl is the upstream female-specific regulator, SETDB1 is the required chromatin writer, and phf7 is one of the critical SETDB1 target genes (Smolko, 2018).

In metazoans, germ cell development begins early in embryogenesis when the primordial germ cells are specified as distinct from somatic cells. Specified primordial germ cells then migrate into the embryonic gonad, where they begin to exhibit sex-specific division rates and gene expression programs, ultimately leading to meiosis and differentiation into either eggs or sperm. Defects in sex-specific programming interferes with germ cell differentiation leading to infertility and germ cell tumors. Successful reproduction, therefore, depends on the capacity of germ cells to maintain their sexual identity in the form of sex-specific regulation of gene expression (Smolko, 2018).

In Drosophila melanogaster, germ cell sexual identity is specified in embryogenesis by the sex of the developing somatic gonad. However, extrinsic control is lost after embryogenesis and sexual identity is preserved by a cell-intrinsic mechanism. The Sex-lethal (Sxl) female-specific RNA binding protein is an integral component of the cell-intrinsic mechanism, as loss of Sxl specifically in germ cells leads to a global upregulation of spermatogenesis genes and a germ cell tumor phenotype. Remarkably, sex-inappropriate transcription of a single gene, PHD finger protein 7 (phf7), a key regulator of male identity, is largely responsible for the tumor phenotype. Depletion of phf7 in mutants lacking germline Sxl suppresses the tumor phenotype and restores oogenesis. Moreover, forcing PHF7 protein expression in ovarian germ cells is sufficient to disrupt female fate and give rise to a germ cell tumor. Interestingly, sex-specific regulation of phf7 is achieved by a mechanism that relies primarily on alternative promoter choice and transcription start site (TSS) selection. Sex-specific transcription produces mRNA isoforms with different 5' untranslated regions that affect translation efficiency, such that PHF7 protein is only detectable in the male germline. Although the Sxl protein is known to control expression post-transcriptionally in other contexts the observation that germ cells lacking Sxl protein show defects in phf7 transcription argues that Sxl is likely to indirectly control phf7 promoter choice. Thus, how this sex-specific gene expression program is stably maintained remains to be determined (Smolko, 2018).

This study reports the discovery that female germ cell fate is maintained by an epigenetic regulatory pathway in which SETDB1 (aka EGGLESS, KMT1E, and ESET) is the required chromatin writer and phf7 is one of the critical SETDB1 target genes. SETDB1 trimethylates H3K9 (H3K9me3), a feature of heterochromatin. Using tissue-specific knockdown approaches this study established that germ cell specific loss of SETDB1, its protein partner WINDEI [WDE, aka ATF7IP, MCAF1 and hAM10], and the H3K9me3 reader, HP1a, encoded by the Su(var)205 locus, leads to ectopic expression of euchromatic protein-encoding genes, many of which are normally expressed only in testis. It was further found that H3K9me3 repressive marks accumulate in a SETDB1 dependent manner at 21 of these ectopically expressed genes, including phf7. Remarkably, SETDB1 dependent H3K9me3 deposition is highly localized and does not spread into neighboring loci. Regional deposition is especially striking at the phf7 locus, where H3K9me3 accumulation is restricted to the region surrounding the silent testis-specific TSS. Lastly, this study found that H3K9me3 accumulation at many of these genes, including phf7, is dependent on Sxl. Collectively these findings support a model in which female fate is preserved by deposition of H3K9me3 repressive marks on key spermatogenesis genes (Smolko, 2018).

This study reveals a role for H3K9me3 chromatin, operationally defined as facultative heterochromatin, in securing female identity by silencing lineage-inappropriate transcription. H3K9me3 pathway members, the H3K9 methyltransferase SETDB1, its binding partner WDE, and the H3K9 binding protein HP1a, are required for silencing testis gene transcription in female germ cells. These studies further suggest a mechanism in which SETDB1, in conjunction with the female fate determinant Sxl, controls transcription through deposition of highly localized H3K9me3 islands on a select subset of these genes. The male germ cell sexual identity gene phf7 is one of the key downstream SETDB1 target genes. H3K9me3 deposition on the region surrounding the testis-specific TSS guaranties that no PHF7 protein is produced in female germ cells. In this model, failure to establish silencing leads to ectopic PHF7 protein expression, which in turn drives aberrant expression of testis genes and a tumor phenotype (Smolko, 2018).

Prior studies have established a role for SETDB1 in germline Piwi-interacting small RNA (piRNA) biogenesis and TE silencing. However, piRNAs are unlikely to contribute to sexual identity maintenance as mutations that specifically interfere with piRNA production, such as rhino, do not cause defects in germ cell differentiation. These findings, together with the observation that rhino does not control sex-specific phf7 transcription, suggests that the means by which SETDB1 methylates chromatin at testis genes is likely to be mechanistically different from what has been described for piRNA-guided H3K9me3 deposition on TEs.

The accumulation of H3K9me3 at many of these genes, including phf7, is dependent on the presence of Sxl protein. Thus, these studies suggest that Sxl is required for female-specific SETDB1 function. Sxl encodes an RNA binding protein known to regulate its target genes at the posttranscriptional levels. Sxl control may therefore be indirect. However, studies in mammalian cells suggest that proteins with RNA binding motifs are important for H3K9me3 repression, raising the tantalizing possibility that Sxl might play a more direct role in governing testis gene silencing. Further studies will be necessary to clarify how the sex determination pathway feeds into the heterochromatin pathway (Smolko, 2018).

phf7 stands out among the cohort of genes regulated by facultative heterochromatin because of its pivotal role in controlling germ cell sexual identity. Because ectopic protein expression is sufficient to disrupt female fate, tight control of phf7 expression is essential. phf7 regulation is complex, employing a mechanism that includes alternative promoter usage and TSS selection. This study reports that SETDB1/H3K9me3 plays a critical role in controlling phf7 transcription. In female germ cells, H3K9me3 accumulation is restricted to the region surrounding the silent testis-specific transcription start site. Dissolution of the H3K9me3 marks via loss of Sxl or SETDB1 protein is correlated with transcription from the upstream testis-specific site and ectopic protein expression, demonstrating the functional importance of this histone modification. Together, these studies suggest that maintaining the testis phf7 promoter region in an inaccessible state is integral to securing female germ cell fate (Smolko, 2018).

Although the loss of H3K9me3 pathway members in female germ cells leads to the ectopic, lineage-inappropriate transcription of hundreds of genes, integrative analysis identified only 21 SETDB1/H3K9me3 regulated genes. Given that one of these genes is phf7 and that ectopic PHF7 is sufficient to destabilize female fate, it is likely that inappropriate activation of a substantial number of testis genes is a direct consequence of ectopic PHF7 protein expression. How PHF7 is able to promote testis gene transcription is not yet clear. PHF7 is a PHD-finger protein that preferentially binds to H3K4me2, a mark associated with poised, but inactive genes and linked to epigenetic memory. Thus, one simple model is that ectopic PHF7 binds to H3K4me2 marked testis genes to tag them for transcriptional activation (Smolko, 2018).

It will be interesting to explore whether any of the other 20 SETDB1/H3K9me3 regulated genes also have reprogramming activity. In fact, ectopic fate-changing activity has already been described for the homeobox transcription factor Lim1 in the eye-antenna imaginal disc. However, whether Lim1 has a similar function in germ cells is not yet known. Intriguingly, protein prediction programs identify three of the uncharacterized testis-specific genes as E3 ligases. SkpE is a member of the SKP1 gene family, which are components of the Skp1-Cullin-F-box type ubiquitin ligase. CG12477 is a RING finger domain protein, most of which are believed to have ubiquitin E3 ligases activity. CG42299 is closely related to the human small ubiquitin-like modifier (SUMO) E3 ligase NSMCE2. Given studies that have linked E3 ligases to the regulation of chromatin remodeling, it is tempting to speculate that ectopic expression of one or more of these E3 ligases will be sufficient to alter cell fate. Future studies focused on this diverse group of SETDB1/H3K9me3 regulated genes and their role in reprogramming may reveal the multiple layers of regulation required to secure cell fate (Smolko, 2018).

The SETDB1-mediated mechanism for maintaining sexual identity uncovered in this study may not be restricted to germ cells. Recent studies have established that the preservation of sexual identity is essential in the adult somatic gut and gonadal cells for tissue homeostasis. Furthermore, the finding that loss of HP1a in adult neurons leads to masculinization of the neural circuitry and male specific behaviors suggests a connection between female identity maintenance and H3K9me3 chromatin. Thus, it is speculated that SETDB1 is more broadly involved in maintaining female identity (Smolko, 2018).

These studies highlight an emerging role for H3K9me3 chromatin in cell fate maintenance. In the fission yeast S. pombe, discrete facultative heterochromatin islands assemble at meiotic genes that are maintained in a silent state during vegetative growth. Although less well understood, examples in mammalian cells indicate a role for SETDB1 in lineage-specific gene silencing. Thus, silencing by SETDB1 controlled H3K9 methylation may be a widespread strategy for securing cell fate. Interestingly, H3K9me3 chromatin impedes the reprogramming of somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Conversion efficiency is improved by depletion of SETDB1. If erasure of H3K9me3 via depletion of SETDB1 alters the sexually dimorphic gene expression profile in reprogrammed cells, as it does in Drosophila germ cells, the resulting gene expression differences may cause stem cell dysfunction, limiting their therapeutic utility (Smolko, 2018).


Search PubMed for articles about Drosophila Phf7

Casper, A. L., Baxter, K. and Van Doren, M. (2011). no child left behind encodes a novel chromatin factor required for germline stem cell maintenance in males but not females. Development 138: 3357-3366. PubMed ID: 21752937

Katz, D. J., Edwards, T. M., Reinke, V. and Kelly, W. G. (2009). A C. elegans LSD1 demethylase contributes to germline immortality by reprogramming epigenetic memory. Cell 137: 308-320. PubMed ID: 19379696

Smolko, A. E., Shapiro-Kulnane, L. and Salz, H. K. (2018). The H3K9 methyltransferase SETDB1 maintains female identity in Drosophila germ cells. Nat Commun 9(1): 4155. PubMed ID: 30297796

Szabad, J., Reuter, G. and Schroder, M. B. (1988). The effects of two mutations connected with chromatin functions on female germ-line cells of Drosophila. Mol Gen Genet 211: 56-62. PubMed ID: 3422705

Yang, S. Y., Baxter, E. M. and Van Doren, M. (2012). Phf7 controls male sex determination in the Drosophila germline. Dev Cell 22: 1041-1051. PubMed ID: 22595675

Biological Overview

date revised: 12 March 2013

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