Background: Recent studies indicate that exposure to environmental chemicals may increase susceptibility to developing metabolic diseases. This susceptibility may in part be caused by changes to the epigenetic landscape which consequently affect gene expression and lead to changes in lipid metabolism. The epigenetic modifier enhancer of zeste 2 (Ezh2) is a histone H3K27 methyltransferase implicated to play a role in lipid metabolism and adipogenesis. In this study, we used the zebrafish (Danio rerio) to investigate the role of Ezh2 on lipid metabolism and chromatin status following developmental exposure to the Ezh1/2 inhibitor PF-06726304 acetate. We used the environmental chemical tributyltin (TBT) as a positive control, as this chemical is known to act on lipid metabolism via EZH-mediated pathways in mammals.
Results: Zebrafish embryos (0-5 days post-fertilization, dpf) exposed to non-toxic concentrations of PF-06726304 acetate (5 μM) and TBT (1 nM) exhibited increased lipid accumulation. Changes in chromatin were analyzed by the assay for transposase-accessible chromatin sequencing (ATAC-seq) at 50% epiboly (5.5 hpf). We observed 349 altered chromatin regions, predominantly located at H3K27me3 loci and mostly more open chromatin in the exposed samples. Genes associated to these loci were linked to metabolic pathways. In addition, a selection of genes involved in lipid homeostasis, adipogenesis and genes specifically targeted by PF-06726304 acetate via altered chromatin accessibility were differentially expressed after TBT and PF-06726304 acetate exposure at 5 dpf, but not at 50% epiboly stage. One gene, cebpa, did not show a change in chromatin, but did show a change in gene expression at 5 dpf. Interestingly, underlying H3K27me3 marks were significantly decreased at this locus at 50% epiboly.
Conclusions: Here, we show for the first time the applicability of ATAC-seq as a tool to investigate toxicological responses in zebrafish. Our analysis indicates that Ezh2 inhibition leads to a partial primed state of chromatin linked to metabolic pathways which results in gene expression changes later in development, leading to enhanced lipid accumulation. Although ATAC-seq seems promising, our in-depth assessment of the cebpa locus indicates that we need to consider underlying epigenetic marks as well.
Keywords: ATAC-seq; Epigenetics; Histone methyl transferases; Metabolism; Zebrafish.