Cell lineages, which shape the body architecture and specify cell functions, derive from the integration of a plethora of cell intrinsic and extrinsic signals. These signals trigger a multiplicity of decisions at several levels to modulate the activity of dynamic gene regulatory networks (GRNs), which ensure both general and cell-specific functions within a given lineage, thereby establishing cell fates. Significant knowledge about these events and the involved key drivers comes from homogeneous cell differentiation models. Even a single chemical trigger, such as the morphogen all-trans retinoic acid (RA), can induce the complex network of gene-regulatory decisions that matures a stem/precursor cell to a particular step within a given lineage. Here we have dissected the GRNs involved in the RA-induced neuronal or endodermal cell fate specification by integrating dynamic RXRA binding, chromatin accessibility, epigenetic promoter epigenetic status, and the transcriptional activity inferred from RNA polymerase II mapping and transcription profiling. Our data reveal how RA induces a network of transcription factors (TFs), which direct the temporal organization of cognate GRNs, thereby driving neuronal/endodermal cell fate specification. Modeling signal transduction propagation using the reconstructed GRNs indicated critical TFs for neuronal cell fate specification, which were confirmed by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing. Overall, this study demonstrates that a systems view of cell fate specification combined with computational signal transduction models provides the necessary insight in cellular plasticity for cell fate engineering. The present integrated approach can be used to monitor the in vitro capacity of (engineered) cells/tissues to establish cell lineages for regenerative medicine.
© 2016 Mendoza-Parra et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.