Dynamic chromatin organization during foregut development mediated by the organ selector gene PHA-4/FoxA.

Citation:

Fakhouri THI, Stevenson J, Chisholm AD, Mango SE. Dynamic chromatin organization during foregut development mediated by the organ selector gene PHA-4/FoxA. PLoS genetics. 2010;6(8).

Abstract:

Central regulators of cell fate, or selector genes, establish the identity of cells by direct regulation of large cohorts of genes. In Caenorhabditis elegans, foregut (or pharynx) identity relies on the FoxA transcription factor PHA-4, which activates different sets of target genes at various times and in diverse cellular environments. An outstanding question is how PHA-4 distinguishes between target genes for appropriate transcriptional control. We have used the Nuclear Spot Assay and GFP reporters to examine PHA-4 interactions with target promoters in living embryos and with single cell resolution. While PHA-4 was found throughout the digestive tract, binding and activation of pharyngeally expressed promoters was restricted to a subset of pharyngeal cells and excluded from the intestine. An RNAi screen of candidate nuclear factors identified emerin (emr-1) as a negative regulator of PHA-4 binding within the pharynx, but emr-1 did not modulate PHA-4 binding in the intestine. Upon promoter association, PHA-4 induced large-scale chromatin de-compaction, which, we hypothesize, may facilitate promoter access and productive transcription. Our results reveal two tiers of PHA-4 regulation. PHA-4 binding is prohibited in intestinal cells, preventing target gene expression in that organ. PHA-4 binding within the pharynx is limited by the nuclear lamina component EMR-1/emerin. The data suggest that association of PHA-4 with its targets is a regulated step that contributes to promoter selectivity during organ formation. We speculate that global re-organization of chromatin architecture upon PHA-4 binding promotes competence of pharyngeal gene transcription and, by extension, foregut development.

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