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Singhal, Nishant (2005): The role of Xenopus BRG1, a conserved subunit of SWI/SNF class of remodeling complexes, during early frog development. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Biology
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Abstract

BRG1 is a conserved subunit of the SWI/SNF family of ATP dependent chromatin remodeling complexes. These complexes play an important role in the transcription of various genes by making promoters accessible to the transcription machinery. Mutations in BRG1 have been connected to various cancers. In addition, a BRG1 knock-out in mice is lethal at the periimplantation stage, while BRG1 heterozygote mice are predisposed to exencephaly and tumors of epithelial origin, showing the importance of BRG1 in normal development and disease. In this study, I used Xenopus laevis to study the role of BRG1 because this system allows manipulation of endogenous protein levels by the use of antisense oligonucleotide mediated knock-down as well as interference analysis at early stages of development by overexpression of wild type and dominant negative protein variants. Since BRG1 is conserved among all vertebrates, I initially studied the role of BRG1 in Xenopus development by overexpression of wild type and dominant negative human BRG1. Overexpression of dominant negative human BRG1 gave a ventralized phenotype suggesting a role of BRG1 in dorsal-ventral patterning. The specificity of phenotypes was confirmed by using wild type human BRG1. On the other hand, overexpression of wild type and dominant negative variants of human BRM showed no developmental phenotypes. Prompted by these results, a frog brg1 cDNA was cloned by searching the Xenopus laevis EST database, using human BRG1 as a query. In addition, monoclonal antibodies specific to xBRG1 were raised and characterized. The expression pattern of Xbrg1 was found to be ubiquitous until gastrula stage and is tissue specific from neurula stage onwards. A Xenopus homologue of INI1, a subunit of SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complex, was cloned using database search. The expression pattern of Xini1 was found to be similar to Xbrg1. Using site directed mutagenesis, a dominant negative construct of xBRG1 was made by mutating the conserved lysine into arginine (K770R). Loss and gain of function studies showed that BRG1 is involved in AP axis formation during Xenopus development. The gain of function studies were done by overex-pressing wild type and dominant negative xBRG1, while loss of function studies were done using highly specific antisense morpholino oligos. Specificity of morpholino treatment was further proven by the rescue of ventralized phenotypes of morphant embryos by overexpression of human BRG1. It was found that BRG1 knock-down affects several tissues as assessed by in-situ hybridization using tissue specific markers. To determine the molecular explanation for these pleiotropic effects, several genes involved in early patterning of Xenopus embryo during organizer formation were analyzed. The analysis was done using whole mount in-situ hybridization, revealing the spatial gene expression pattern. This analysis revealed that BRG1 mostly affects WNT signaling dependent genes required for dorsal mesoderm formation while leaving pan-mesodermal genes unaffected. Furthermore the genetic interaction of BRG1 with the WNT pathway was confirmed by epistasis experiments showing that overexpression of β-CATENIN can rescue the xBrg1 antisense morpholino oligos dependent ventralized phenotypes as well as formation of secondary axis by overexpression of β-CATENIN could be prevented by BRG1 knock-down. Since the whole embryo represents a complex situation whereby many signaling pathways interact with each other and influence the outcome, the animal cap system was used to analyze the effect of BRG1 on various signaling pathways by analyzing corresponding direct target genes. Animal cap assays showed that the effect of BRG1 is signal specific. Moreover, among the affected signaling pathways, BRG1 knock-down affected only specific genes. These results showed that the BRG1 effect is gene and signal specific. The importance of WNT signaling has also been shown in cancer as well as in haematopoietic and embryonic stem cell self renewal. Given the importance of the WNT signaling, the role of BRG1 on the WNT signaling pathway was further investigated. Treatment of animal cap cells with various doses of Wnt8 mRNA showed the differential requirement of the WNT signal for maximal stimulation of direct target genes. The direct target genes of the WNT pathway showed various degrees of reduction in their maximal stimulation upon BRG1 protein knock-down. The requirement of BRG1 for proper stimulation of the WNT target genes was further confirmed by overexpression of xBRG1 under sub-optimal conditions of WNT stimulation. A major conclusion from these experiments is that BRG1 protein defines signaling thresholds for WNT-mediated activation of target genes. This implies that chromatin remodeling complexes are part of the machinery, which translates inductive signals into spatial gene expression domains.