Background: Polycomb group (PcG) and trithorax group (trxG) proteins contribute to the specialization of cell types by maintaining differential gene expression patterns. Initially discovered as positive regulators of HOX genes in forward genetic screens, trxG counteracts PcG-mediated repression of cell type-specific genes. Despite decades of extensive analysis, molecular understanding of trxG action and regulation are still punctuated by many unknowns. This study aimed at discovering novel factors that elicit an anti-silencing effect to facilitate trxG-mediated gene activation.
Results: We have developed a cell-based reporter system and performed a genome-wide RNAi screen to discover novel factors involved in trxG-mediated gene regulation in Drosophila. We identified more than 200 genes affecting the reporter in a manner similar to trxG genes. From the list of top candidates, we have characterized Enoki mushroom (Enok), a known histone acetyltransferase, as an important regulator of trxG in Drosophila. Mutants of enok strongly suppressed extra sex comb phenotype of Pc mutants and enhanced homeotic transformations associated with trx mutations. Enok colocalizes with both TRX and PC at chromatin. Moreover, depletion of Enok specifically resulted in an increased enrichment of PC and consequently silencing of trxG targets. This downregulation of trxG targets was also accompanied by a decreased occupancy of RNA-Pol-II in the gene body, correlating with an increased stalling at the transcription start sites of these genes. We propose that Enok facilitates trxG-mediated maintenance of gene activation by specifically counteracting PcG-mediated repression.
Conclusion: Our ex vivo approach led to identification of new trxG candidate genes that warrant further investigation. Presence of chromatin modifiers as well as known members of trxG and their interactors in the genome-wide RNAi screen validated our reverse genetics approach. Genetic and molecular characterization of Enok revealed a hitherto unknown interplay between Enok and PcG/trxG system. We conclude that histone acetylation by Enok positively impacts the maintenance of trxG-regulated gene activation by inhibiting PRC1-mediated transcriptional repression.
Keywords: Enok; Epigenetic cellular memory; Gene regulation; Genome-wide RNAi screen; H3K23 acetyl transferase; Histone modifications; Polycomb group; trithorax group.