Gerd Blobel, M.D., Ph.D.

1) We are pursuing questions of how chromatin in organized in the nucleus, specifically, how enhancer-promoter contacts are formed or constrained. We found that the hematopoietic transcription factor GATA1 and its co-factor FOG1 are essential to juxtapose the enhancer of the b-globin locus with the promoter (Vakoc, Mol. Cell 2005). This study was among the first to define any nuclear factor in chromatin looping. We discovered that chromatin looping is highly dynamic and can occur even at repressed genes (Jing, Mol. Cell 2008). Using a novel approach of tethering the “looping” factor Ldb1 to an endogenous gene, we were able for the first time to generate an enhancer-promoter chromatin loop at a native endogenous gene locus and thus discovered that chromatin looping causally underlies gene expression (Deng et al., Cell 2012). We adapted this approach to reprogram the murine and human b-globin to reactivate the dormant embryonic and fetal globin genes, respectively (Deng, Cell 2014). We are advancing this strategy towards a clinical application in the setting of sickle cell anemia and thalassemia.

We discovered a novel developmental stage specific chromatin architectural element that constrains the functional range of the b-globin enhancer (Huang, Genes Dev. 2017). This element is a potential target for therapeutic genome editing.

By examining the chromosomal architecture during transcription elongation in erythroid cells we discovered that at some genes, instead of the RNA polymerase tracking down the gene, the gene is reeled alongside a polymerase complex that is stabilized by enhancer promoter loops (Lee et al., Genes Dev. 2015). This discovery modifies long-standing views of how transcription progresses in the nucleus.

  • Deng W, Lee J, Wang H, Reik A, Gregory PD, Dean A, and Blobel GA(2012) Controlling long-range chromosomal interactions at a native locus by targeted tethering of a looping factor. Cell149:1233-44. (Featured in a Cell video, and selected by Faculty of 1000) [PMCID: PMC3600827]
  • Deng W, Rupon JW, Krivega, I, Breda L, Motta, I, Jahn KS, Reik A, Gregory PD, Rivella S, Dean A, Blobel GA(2014) Reactivation of developmentally silenced globin gene expression by forced chromatin looping. Cell, 158:849-60. Selected by Faculty of 1000, and highlighted in Nature Genetics [PMCID: PMC4134511]
  • Lee K, Hsiung CC-S, Huang P, Raj A and Blobel GA(2015) Dynamic enhancer-gene body contacts during transcription elongation. Genes Dev., 29:1992-1997.
  • Huang P, Keller CA, Giardine B, Grevet, JD, Davies JOJ, Hughes JR, Kurita R, Nakamura Y, Hardison RC, and Blobel GA(2017) Comparative analysis of 3-dimensional chromosomal architecture identifies novel fetal hemoglobin regulatory element. Genes Dev. 31:1704-1713. [PMCID: PMC5647940]

2) A key question in the establishment and maintenance of cellular lineages is how transcriptional programs are stably maintained throughout the cell cycle to preserve lineage identity. This question is intimately related to how transcription factors interact with the appropriate gene-specific elements within chromatin and how these interactions are controlled throughout the cell division cycle. During mitosis chromosomes condense and transcription is silenced globally as a result of eviction of most nuclear factors from chromatin. Our studies have been aimed at understanding how the cell epigenetically “remembers” to restore appropriate transcription patterns upon G1 entry. By studying the tri-thorax protein MLL and the hematopoietic transcription factor GATA1 we have gained important insights into mitotic “bookmarking” mechanisms, including the first genome wide location analyses of transcription factors in pure mitotic populations (Blobel, Mol. Cell. 2009; Kadauke, Cell 2012) and functional insights into post-mitotic reactivation of bookmarked vs non-bookmarked genes. In the process we developed key reagents that are being used by many others in the field, including a new method to purify mitotic cells to virtual homogeneity and new tools to degrade proteins of interest specifically in mitosis. We have carried out the first genome wide survey of chromatin accessibility in pure mitotic chromatin and found that remarkably, that chromosome retain most of their “openness” with enhancers being more susceptible to partial loss of accessibility that promoters (Hsiung, Genome Res. 2015). We have examined for the first time on a global scale how the genome is transcriptionally reawakened following mitosis and discovered a window in time at which the genome is hyperactive and at which cell to cell variation in transcription patterns is established (Hsiung, Genes Dev. 2016). We also describe how genome architecture is hierarchically re-built when cells exit mitosis and re-enter the G-1 phase of the cell cycle. (Zhang, Nature, 2019)

  • Blobel GA, Kadauke S, Wang E, Lau AW, Zuber J, Chou MM, and Vakoc CR (2009). A Reconfigured Pattern of MLL Occupancy within Mitotic Chromatin Promotes Rapid Transcriptional Reactivation Following Mitotic Exit. Molecular Cell, 36:970-983. [PMCID: PMC2818742] (Preview in Developmental Cell 18:4, 2010).
  • Kadauke S, Udugama M., Pawlicki JM, Achtman JC, Jain DP, Cheng Y, Hardison RC, and Blobel GA(2012) Tissue-specific Mitotic Bookmarking by Hematopoietic Transcription Factor GATA1. Cell 150:725-737. [PMCID: PMC3425057]
  • Hsiung CC-S, Morrissey C, Udugama M, Frank CL, Keller CA, Baek S, Giardine B, Crawford GE, Sung M-H, Hardison RC, Blobel GA(2015) Genome accessibility is widely preserved and locally modulated during mitosis. Genome Research, 2:213-25 [PMCID: PMC4315295]
  • Hsiung CC-S, Bartman C, Huang P, Ginart P, Stonestrom AJ, Keller CA, Face C, Jahn KS, Evans JP, Sankaranarayanan L, Giardine B, Hardison RC, Raj A, Blobel GA(2016) A hyperactive transcriptional state marks genome reactivation upon mitotic exit. Genes Dev. 30:1423-39. [PMCID: PMC 4926865]

3) We are interested in the factors that establish higher order chromatin organization and how long range chromatin interactions impact on transcription. We used forced chromatin looping in combination with single molecule RNA-FISH to understand mechanistically how enhancer-promoter contacts impact on transcription output and to define the dynamics of chromatin looping (Bartman, Mol. Cell 2016, Bartman, Mol. Cell 2019).

We examine how architectural factors such CTCF and cohesins function in organizing the genome and how the impact enhancer promoter communication and gene expression. We discovered that the epigenetic “reader” BET protein BRD2 and the architectural transcription factor CTCF and found that BRD2 contributes to the formation of chromatin boundaries that insulate enhancers from contacting and activating inappropriate genes (Hsu, Molecular Cell 2017). We profiled CTCF and cohesin during the cell cycle and linked these molecules to hierarchical genome folding when cells exit mitosis and enter the G1 phase of the cell cycle (Zhang, Nature 2019). We are examine chromatin contacts and domain boundaries via gain-of-function perturbative studies (Zhang, Nature Genetics 2020).

  • Bartman CR, Hsiung CC-S, Raj A, Blobel GA(2016) Enhancer regulation of transcriptional bursting parameters revealed by forced chromatin looping. Molecular Cell 62:237-247 [PMCID: PMC4842148]
  • Hsu SC, Bartman CR, Gilgenast TG, Edwards, CR, Stonestrom AJ, Huang P, Emerson DJ, Evans P, Werner MT, Keller CA, Giardine ., Hardison RC, Raj A, Phillips-Cremins JE and Blobel GA (2017) The BET protein BRD2 cooperates with CTCF to enforce architectural and transcriptional boundaries. Molecular Cell  66:102-116 (Selected by Faculty of 1000) [PMCID: PMC5393350]
  • Zhang H, Emerson DJ, Gilgenast TG, Titus KR, Lan Y, Huang P, Zhang D, Wang H, Keller CA, Giardine B. Hardison RC, Phillips-Cremins JE, and Blobel GA(2019) Chromatin Structure Dynamics During the Mitosis to G1-Phase Transition. Nature, 576:158-162 [PMCID: PMC6895436]
  • Zhang D, Huang P, Keller CA, Giardine B, Zhang H, Gilgenast TG, Phillips-Cremins JE, Hardison RC, and Blobel GA(2020) Alteration of genome folding via engineered boundary insertion. Nature Genetics, 52:1076-1087 (featured in News and Views) [PMCID: PMC7541666]

4) We are aim to find new modalities to raise fetal hemoglobin production to benefit patients with sickle cell disease and thalassemia. Recently our focus has been to identify molecules involved in fetal hemoglobin regulation that might be druggable. We improved CRISPR-Cas9 technology as a screening tool and employed it to discover an erythroid specific protein kinase HRI as regulator of fetal hemoglobin (Grevet, Science 2018). We followed up with mechanistic studies elucidating the pathway leading from HRI to fetal globin silencing (Huang et al. 2020). Using this CRISPR screening approach we discovered a new zinc finger transcription factor, ZNF410, that is potentially targetable via a PROTAC that silences fetal hemoglobin transcription via a single target gene, the NuRD subunit CHD4 (Lan, Molecular Cell, 2020). Deep mechanistic studies include the clinically relevant question as to why some cells respond to fetal hemoglobin induction while others do not (Khandros, Blood 2020).

  • Grevet JD, Lan X, Hamagami N, Edwards CR, Sankaranarayanan L, Ji X, Bhardwaj SK, Face CJ, Posocco DF, Abdulmalik O, Keller CA, Giardine B, Sidoli S, Garcia BA, Chou ST, Liebhaber SA, Hardison RC, Shi J, and Blobel GA(2018) Domain-focused CRISPR screen identifies HRI as a fetal hemoglobin regulator in human erythroid cells. Science 361:285-290 (Preview in the New England Journal of Medicine 379:17,2018) [PMCID:PMC6257981]
  • Huang P, Peslak SA, Lan X, Khandros E, Yano JA, Sharma M, Keller CA, Giardine B, Qin K, Abdulmalik O, Hardison RC, Shi J  and Blobel GA(2020). HRI activates ATF4 to promote BCL11A transcription and fetal hemoglobin silencing. Blood, 135:2121-2132 (Plenary paper, featured in Preview) [PMCID: PMC7290097]
  • Lan X. Ren R., Feng R., Ly L.C., Lan Y., Zhang Z., Aboreden N., Qin K., Horton J.R., Grevet J.D.,Mayuranathan T.,Abdulmalik O., Keller C.A., Giardine B., Hardison R.C., Crossley M., Weiss M.J., Cheng X., Shi J., Blobel G.A. (2020) ZNF410 uniquely activates the NuRD component CHD4 to silence fetal hemoglobin expression. Molecular Cell, in press
  • Khandros E., Huang P., Peslak S.A., Sharma, M., Abdulmalik O., Giardine B., Zhang Z., Keller C.A., Hardison R.C., and Blobel G.A. (2020). Understanding Heterogeneity of Fetal Hemoglobin Induction through Comparative Analysis of F- and A-erythroblasts. Blood135;1957-1968 (featured in Preview) [PMCID: PMC7256358]


Complete List of Published Work in MyBibliography

Research Interest

We study how genetic regulatory elements are organized spatially in the nucleus and how transcription programs and chromatin architecture are organized throughout the cell cycle to maintain lineage identity. A major effort in the lab is directed towards understanding the regulation of globin gene expression and developing approaches to perturb globin gene expression to ameliorate sickle cell disease. Our work bridges basic science with preclinical studies. For our studies we combine molecular, genomic, biochemical, and imaging approaches with studies in normal and gene targeted mice.

Shelley L. Berger, Ph.D.

1.  Identification of transcriptional adaptors/coactivators Gcn5/Ada2/Ada3 and discovery of novel histone modifications and mechanisms in transcription and sperm genome opening

We discovered transcriptional “adaptors”, which we showed associate with DNA binding activators, a groundbreaking new model for transcriptional activation, to reveal how histone enzymatic modifiers are recruited to genes (Berger+, Cell1990, Cell1993). We revealed the importance of adaptor Gcn5 acetyltransferase activity in transcriptional activation (1998), unifying transcription and chromatin regulation. We discovered numerous novel histone modifications (PTMs), PTM cross-talk, and sequential histone PTMs in transcription, including histone phosphorylation/acetylation (2001) and ubiquitylation/deubiquitylation. We discovered (2017) that enhancer RNAs bind directly to CBP, the key metazoan acetyltransferase, to stimulate HAT activity in vitro and at enhancers in vivo.  We showed (2019) that Gcn5 provides key histone acetylation to broadly open the mouse genome during spermatogenesis for extensive chromatin restructuring.

a.  Wang L, Liu L. and Berger SL. (1998) Critical residues for histone acetylation by GCN5, functioning in Ada and SAGA complexes, are also required for transcriptional function in vivo. Genes & Development 12: 640-653. PMCID: PMC316586

b.  Lo W-S…Shiekhattar R, and Berger SL.  (2001) Snf1 is a histone kinase which works in concert with the histone acetyltransferase Gcn5 to regulate transcription. Science 293:1142-6.  PMID:111498592

c.  Bose DA, Donahue G, Reinberg D, Shiekhattar R, Bonasio R, Berger SL. (2017)  RNA binding to CBP stimulates histone acetylation and transcription. Cell 168,135-149. PMCID: PMC5325706.

d.  Luense LJ, Donahue G, Lin-Shiao E….Bartolomei M, Berger SL. (2019) Gcn5-mediated histone acetylation governs nucleosome dynamics in spermiogenesis. Developmental Cell 51:745-758.

2. Discovery of chromatin mechanisms controlling aging and senescence

We uncovered chromatin changes involved in aging and cellular senescence, indicating broad epigenome dysregulation. These include pioneering studies that histone acetylation drives aging in yeast (2009), disrupts the nuclear laminar chromatin in mammals, and are crucial to enhancer function in aging (2019). We showed these disruptions trigger both homeostatic genomic protection and cellular damage, and discovered nuclear autophagy pathways in senescence leading to inflammation in aging and cancer (2015,2017,2020). Our findings suggest potential epigenetic therapeutics to ameliorate age-associated disease.

a.  Dang W…Kaeberlein M, Kennedy BK, and Berger SL. (2009) Histone H4 lysine-16 acetylation regulates cellular lifespan. Nature 459:802-7. PMCID: PMC2702157.

b.  Dou Z…Adams PD^, and Berger SL^. (2015) Autophagy mediates degradation of nuclear lamina. Nature 527:105-9. PMCID: PMC4824414.   (2017) Cytoplasmic chromatin triggers inflammation in senescence and cancer. Nature 550:402-406.  PMID:28976970.

c.  Sen P, Lan Y…Adams PD, Schultz DC, Berger SL. (2019) Histone acetyltransferase p300 induces de novo super-enhancers to drive cellular senescence. Molecular Cell 73:684-698. PMID:30773298.

d.  Xu C, Wang L…Adams PA, Ott M, Tong W, Johansen T, Dou Z^, and Berger SL^.  (2020)  SIRT1 is downregulated by autophagy in senescence and aging.  Nature Cell Biology 22:1170-1179.

3. Demonstration of chromatin mechanisms controlling memory and behavior and relevant to aging. 

Our studies in mouse brain and memory show a pivotal role of the metabolic enzyme, ACSS2, in fueling “on-site” acetyl-CoA generation on chromatin for neuronal histone acetylation and gene expression in normal memory and in alcohol-fueled addiction memory (2017/19). Our work in human Alzheimer’s disease reveals that the cognitively normal aging brain is epigenetically protected compared to the AD brain (2018/20). In other research on brain, we pioneered investigation of eusocial ant caste-specific behavior for organismal-level chromatin regulation and epigenetics, owing to the remarkable fact that female ants of distinct social castes (such as queen, soldier, and forager) share an identical genome. We sequenced the first ant genomes and then profiled the first histone modification epigenomes (2010,Science) and pioneered Crispr genetics in ants (2017,Cell). Groundbreaking results indicate a critical role of histone modifications in altering ant brain function to instruct complex social behavior; we identified a “window”, early after hatching, to behavioral reprogramming via epigenetic manipulation (2016/2020).  We linked regulation of caste behavior to remarkable aging disparity.

a.  Simola DF…Reinberg D^, Liebig J^, Berger SL^.  (2016)  Epigenetic (re)programming of caste-specific behavior in the ant C. floridanus. Science 351:aac6633. PMID: 26722000, PMCID: PMC5057185.

b.  Mews, P… Berger SL. (2017) Acetyl-CoA metabolism by ACSS2 regulates neuronal histone acetylation and hippocampal memory. Nature 546,381-386. PMCID: PMC5505514.  Mews P, Egervari G^…Garcia, B, Berger SL^. (2019) Alcohol metabolism contributes to brain histone acetylation. Nature 574: 717-721.

c.  Glastad K, Graham RJ, Ju L, Rossler J, Brady CM, and Berger SL (2020) Epigenetic regulator CoRest controls social behavior in ants.  Molecular Cell 77:338-351.

d.  Nativio R, Donahue G…Johnson FB^, Bonini NM^, Berger SL^ (2018) Dysregulation of the epigenetic landscape of normal aging in Alzheimer’s disease. Nature Neuroscience 21,497-505.  Nativio R, Lan Y…Garcia BA, Trojanowski JQ, Bonini NM^, Berger SL^.  (2020) An integrated multi-omics approach identifies epigenetic drivers associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  Nature Genetics 52:1024-1035.

  1. Discovery of tumor suppressor p53 factor and histone modifications and their mechanisms including activating p53 acetylation, repressive p53 methylation, and novel chromatin pathways in p53-mediated transcriptional activation

Our work revealed new enzyme modifiers and post-translational modifications of p53 (including acetylation, methylation, and demethylation, 2006/7) regulating p53 activity. Our findings propelled broad efforts in the field to discover novel acetylation and methylation of transcription factors. We showed p53 methylation is generally repressive to its function, and showed repressive p53 methylation occurring in certain cancers bearing high levels of wild type p53. We discovered novel epigenetic pathways used by wild type and mutant p53 in regulating chromatin structure/function in normal and cancer cells, such as gain-of-function p53 mutants driving transcriptional activating and growth promoting histone modifications (2015).  We showed that p53 and p63 establish new enhancers during stress and development. We found a novel role of p53 in promoting target gene association with nuclear speckles for transcriptional amplification (2021).

  1. a. Huang J…Jenuwein T, andBerger SL. (2006) Repression of p53 activity by Smyd2-mediated methylation.  Nature 444:629-32. PMID:17108971.  Huang J…Jenuwein T, and Berger SL.  (2007) p53 is regulated by the lysine demethylase LSD1.  Nature, 449:105-8.
  2. Bungard D…Thompson CB, Jones RG andBerger SL. (2010) Signaling kinase AMPK activates stress-promoted transcription via histone H2B phosphorylation. Science 329: 1201-5. PMCID: PMC3922052.
  3. Zhu J, Sammons MA, Donahue G, Dou Z…Arrowsmith CH, andBerger SL. (2015) Gain-of-function p53 mutants co-opt epigenetic pathways to drive cancer growth. Nature 525:206-11. PMCID: PMC4568559
  4. Alexander KA…Belmont A, Joyce EF, Raj A, and Berger SL. (2021) p53 mediates target gene association with nuclear speckles for amplified RNA expression. Molecular Cell 81:1666-1681.
  1. Investigation of epigenetic mechanisms in T and CART cell exhaustion and cancer immunotherapy

We established collaborations with Carl June (pioneer of CAR T cell therapy in cancer) and John Wherry (discovered key aspects of T cell exhaustion).  We investigate epigenetic regulation in patient response to immunotherapy, and controlling T cell exhaustion in mouse models.

  1. Pauken KE…Berger SL, and Wherry EJ.  (2016) Epigenetic stability of exhausted T cells limits durability of reinvigoration by PD-1 blockade.Science 354,1160-1165.  Khan O…Berger SL, and Wherry EJ.  (2019) TOX transcriptionally and epigenetically programs CD8+ T cell exhaustion.  Nature 571, 211.
  2. Fraietta JA…Berger SL, Bushman FD, June CH, and Melenhorst JJ. (2018) Disruption of TET2 promotes the therapeutic efficacy of CD19-targeted T-cells.Nature 555, 307-312.
  3. Chen Z…Berger SL, Wherry EJ, and Shi J.  In vivo CRISPR screening identifies Fli1 as a transcriptional safeguard that restrains effector CD8 T cell differentiation during infection and cancer.  Cell 184:1262.
  4. Good CR+, Kuramitsu S+, Aznar MA+…Young RM^,Berger SL^, June CH^ (2021) In vitro dysfunction model reveals the plasticity of patient CAR-T cells and identifies transcription factors whose modulation can restrain CAR-T cell exhaustion. Cell184:6081-6100.

Research Interest

Our lab focuses on mechanisms that regulate gene expression with a special emphasis on how the DNA-packaging structure of chromatin is manipulated during genomic processes. Our findings inform the study of cancer and other diseases, and ultimately drug discovery.

Marisa Bartolomei, Ph.D.

The work in my laboratory focuses on elucidating the mechanisms governing genomic imprinting in mammals. Imprinted genes number in the hundreds, are largely located in domains and are expressed from a single parental allele. This monoallelic gene expression pattern is set in the gametes and maintained during development using epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation and posttranslational histone modifications. Genomic imprinting is an excellent model for studying epigenetic gene regulation during mammalian development. We have used mouse models with mutations in cis-acting regulatory sequences and trans-acting epigenetic factors to study imprinted gene regulation, including examining tissue-specific effects and higher order chromatin structure and architecture. Historically we conducted in depth analyses of the H19Igf2 imprinted locus but have more recently expanded to Grb10Ddc1 locus to reveal cis-acting regulatory elements. For elucidating establishment and maintenance of imprinted gene expression we have studied most of the imprinted loci and incorporated genome-wide approaches and mutations in the DNA methylation machinery. Specifically, we have studied the role of oxidase TET1 in reprogramming of iPSCs and genomic imprints, more recently expanding to study reprogramming of the male germline using a series of Tet1 mutant mice. We have also studied X inactivation in many of these model systems.

Additionally, we use mouse models to study the epigenetic consequences of environmental perturbations such as in utero exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). With respect to EDCs, we have used a mouse model to show that BPA exerts an abnormal metabolic, skeletal health and behavior phenotypes, largely observed in males. In these models we have focused on placenta as well as fetal and postnatal phenotypes. For the ART mouse model, we have studied the long-term outcomes of procedures used in assisted reproduction and have observed sex-specific metabolic and cardiovascular phenotypes and behavioral perturbations as mice age. Moreover, we have shown that embryo culture in the most significant procedure with respect to conferring abnormal DNA methylation profiles in ART-conceived offspring. Finally, we have employed high throughput technologies to study DNA methylation, transcription, chromatin structure and proteomics in a variety of cell types.

Research Interest

The research in the Bartolomei laboratory focuses epigenetic control of genomic imprinting. They also study how the environment can perturb genomic imprinting and other epigenetic processes important in reproduction and health.

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