Hao Wu, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Genetics

University of Pennsylvania
The Perelman School of Medicine
Department of Genetics
527 Clinical Research Building
415 Curie Blvd
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Office: 215-573-9360

Promoter DNA methylation is generally linked to transcriptional repression. However, euchromatic DNA methylation frequently occurs in regions outside promoters, such as gene bodies or regions upstream of promoters. The function of such non-promoter DNA methylation was largely unclear. Combining mouse genetic models and in vitro neural stem cell (NSC) system with biochemical, epigenomic and bioinformatic analyses, my PhD research revealed a novel function of de novo DNA methyltransferase DNMT3A-mediated non-promoter DNA methylation in facilitating transcription of neurogenic genes in postnatal NSCs. In contrast to the conventional view that DNA methylation is only linked to gene silencing, this study shows that DNA methylation at non-promoter regions may promote transcription by functionally antagonizing Polycomb repression complex 2 (PRC2).

Wu H, Tao J, Sun YE. Regulation and function of mammalian DNA methylation patterns: a genomic perspective. Brief Funct Genomics. 2012 May;11(3):240-50.
Wu H, Coskun V, Tao J, Xie W, Ge W, Yoshikawa K, Li E, Zhang Y, Sun YE. Dnmt3a-dependent nonpromoter DNA methylation facilitates transcription of neurogenic genes. Science. 2010 Jul 23;329(5990):444-8.
Fan G, Martinowich K, Chin MH, He F, Fouse SD, Hutnick L, Hattori D, Ge W, Shen Y, Wu H, ten Hoeve J, Shuai K, Sun YE. DNA methylation controls the timing of astrogliogenesis through regulation of JAK-STAT signaling. Development. 2005 Aug;132(15):3345-56.

TET proteins are Fe2+ and 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases capable of successively oxidizing 5mC to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), 5-formylcytosine (5fC) and 5-carboxylcytosine (5caC). Highly oxidized cytosine bases (i.e. 5fC and 5caC) are selectively recognized and excised by Thymine DNA glycosylase (TDG), and the resulting abasic site is restored to unmodified C through the base excision repair (BER) pathway. Thus, methylation, oxidation, and excision repair offer a biochemically-validated model of mammalian active DNA demethylation pathway. However, little was known about the genomic distribution and gene regulatory functions of TET enzymes. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Yi Zhang, I determined where Tet1 proteins are located across the genome of mouse ESCs. This work was amongst the first to reveal genomic distribution of TET enzymes in the mammalian genome. I found that TET1 is preferentially enriched at CpG-rich sequences at promoters of both transcriptionally active genes and PRC2-repressed lineage-specific genes. Epigenomic and transcriptomic analyses of Tet1-depleted cells reveal that TET1 plays roles in both transcriptional activation and repression, and TET1 contributes to repression of poised developmental regulators in ESCs by maintaining DNA hypomethylation states to facilitate PRC2 binding.

Wu H, Zhang Y. Reversing DNA methylation: mechanisms, genomics, and biological functions. Cell. 2014 Jan 16;156(1-2):45-68.
Wu H, Zhang Y. Mechanisms and functions of Tet protein-mediated 5-methylcytosine oxidation. Genes Dev. 2011 Dec 1;25(23):2436-52.
Wu H, Zhang Y. Tet1 and 5-hydroxymethylation: a genome-wide view in mouse embryonic stem cells. Cell Cycle. 2011 Aug 1;10(15):2428-36.
Wu H, D’Alessio AC, Ito S, Xia K, Wang Z, Cui K, Zhao K, Sun YE, Zhang Y. Dual functions of Tet1 in transcriptional regulation in mouse embryonic stem cells. Nature. 2011 May 19;473(7347):389-93.

A complete understanding of the function of TET enzymes requires new methods to determine the genome-wide distribution of oxidized 5mC bases (5hmC/5fC/5caC). I have developed affinity-enrichment-based (5hmC/5fC/5caC DIP-seq) genome-wide mapping methods and systematically charted the genomic architecture and dynamics of these new DNA modifications. 5hmC is preferentially enriched at transcriptionally inactive/poised promoters as well as gene bodies of actively transcribed genes. In addition, 5hmC is frequently localized near distally located enhancers and CTCF binding sites. Genome-wide mapping of 5fC and 5caC indicates that these highly oxidized bases also accumulate at distal active enhancers and PRC2-repressed developmental gene promoters when TDG is depleted, suggesting that TET/TDG-dependent active DNA demethylation occurs dynamically at both proximal and distal gene regulatory regions. To enable quantitative and high-resolution mapping of TET/TDG-dependent active DNA demethylation, I have recently developed a single-base resolution mapping method, termed Methylase-Assisted BS-seq (MAB-seq), to precisely locate and quantify 5fC and 5caC bases.

Wu H, Zhang Y. Charting oxidized methylcytosines at base resolution. Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2015 Sep;22(9):656-61.
Wu H*, Wu X*, Shen L, Zhang Y. Single-base resolution analysis of active DNA demethylation using methylase-assisted bisulfite sequencing. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Dec;32(12):1231-40.
Shen L*, Wu H*, Diep D, Yamaguchi S, D’Alessio AC, Fung HL, Zhang K, Zhang Y. Genome-wide analysis reveals TET- and TDG-dependent 5-methylcytosine oxidation dynamics. Cell. 2013 Apr 25;153(3):692-706.
Wu H, D’Alessio AC, Ito S, Wang Z, Cui K, Zhao K, Sun YE, Zhang Y. Genome-wide analysis of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine distribution reveals its dual function in transcriptional regulation in mouse embryonic stem cells. Genes Dev. 2011 Apr 1;25(7):679-84.

Research Interest

DNA cytosine methylation (5-methylcytosine) is an evolutionarily conserved epigenetic mark and has a profound impact on transcription, development and genome stability. Historically, 5-methylcytosine (5mC) is considered as a highly stable chemical modification that is mainly required for long-term epigenetic memory. The recent discovery that ten-eleven translocation (TET) proteins can iteratively oxidize 5mC in the mammalian genome represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how 5mC may be enzymatically reversed. It also raises the possibility that three oxidized 5mC bases generated by TET may act as a new class of epigenetic modifications.
Our laboratory uses high-throughput sequencing technologies, bioinformatics, mammalian genetic models, as well as synthetic biology tools to investigate the mechanisms by which proteins that write, read and erase oxidized 5mC bases contribute to mammalian development (particularly cardiovascular and neural lineages) and relevant human diseases. To achieve this goal, we are also interested in developing new genomic sequencing and programmable epigenome-modifying methods to precisely map and manipulate these DNA modifications in the complex mammalian genome.