Long-term association of a transcription factor with its chromatin binding site can stabilize gene expression and cell fate commitment.

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Javed, Khayam 
Garrett, Nigel 

Some lineage-determining transcription factors are overwhelmingly important in directing embryonic cells to a particular differentiation pathway, such as Ascl1 for nerve. They also have an exceptionally strong ability to force cells to change from an unrelated pathway to one preferred by their action. Transcription factors are believed to have a very short residence time of only a few seconds on their specific DNA or chromatin-binding sites. We have developed a procedure in which DNA containing one copy of the binding site for the neural-inducing factor Ascl1 is injected directly into a Xenopus oocyte nucleus which has been preloaded with a limiting amount of the Ascl1 transcription factor protein. This is followed by a further injection of DNA as a competitor, either in a plasmid or in chromosomal DNA, containing the same binding site but with a different reporter. Importantly, expression of the reporter provides a measure of the function of the transcription factor in addition to its residence time. The same long residence time and resistance to competition are seen with the estrogen receptor and its DNA response elements. We find that in this nondividing oocyte, the nerve-inducing factor Ascl1 can remain bound to a specific chromatin site for hours or days and thereby help to stabilize gene expression. This stability of transcription factor binding to chromatin is a necessary part of its action because removal of this factor causes discontinuation of its effect on gene expression. Stable transcription factor binding may be a characteristic of nondividing cells.

Ascl1 gene transcription, Xenopus, dwell time, oocytes, transcription factor, Animals, Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors, Binding Sites, Chromatin, DNA, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Oocytes, Protein Binding, Xenopus laevis
Journal Title
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Cancer Research UK (C6946/A24843)
Wellcome Trust (203144/Z/16/Z)
Medical Research Council (MR/P000479/1)