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LSSS 2016-2017


Life Sciences Seminar Series


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Rob Martienssen

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA

Recombination, replication, repair … and RNA interference

Selected Publications

Dicer in action at replication-transcription collisions.Ren J, Castel SE, Martienssen RA
Mol Cell Oncol 2015 Jul-Sep; 2(3):e991224


Maintaining genome stability at sites of transcription and replication collision is a major challenge to cells. Recently, we have shown that in Schizosaccharomyces pombe Dicer promotes transcription termination at these sites, facilitating DNA replication and preventing replication fork restart that would otherwise occur via homologous recombination at the expense of genome stability. This novel role of Dicer could further explain its previously described role as a tumor suppressor.

The expanding world of small RNAs in plants.Borges F, Martienssen RA
Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 2015 Dec; 16(12):727-41


Plant genomes encode various small RNAs that function in distinct, yet overlapping, genetic and epigenetic silencing pathways. However, the abundance and diversity of small-RNA classes varies among plant species, suggesting coevolution between environmental adaptations and gene-silencing mechanisms. Biogenesis of small RNAs in plants is well understood, but we are just beginning to uncover their intricate regulation and activity. Here, we discuss the biogenesis of plant small RNAs, such as microRNAs, secondary siRNAs and heterochromatic siRNAs, and their diverse cellular and developmental functions, including in reproductive transitions, genomic imprinting and paramutation. We also discuss the diversification of small-RNA-directed silencing pathways through the expansion of RNA-dependent RNA polymerases, DICER proteins and ARGONAUTE proteins.

Dicer promotes transcription termination at sites of replication stress to maintain genome stability.Castel SE, Ren J, Bhattacharjee S, Chang AY, Sánchez M, Valbuena A, Antequera F, Martienssen RA
Cell 2014 Oct 23; 159(3):572-83


Nuclear RNAi is an important regulator of transcription and epigenetic modification, but the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. Using a genome-wide approach in the fission yeast S. pombe, we have found that Dcr1, but not other components of the canonical RNAi pathway, promotes the release of Pol II from the 3? end of highly transcribed genes, and, surprisingly, from antisense transcription of rRNA and tRNA genes, which are normally transcribed by Pol I and Pol III. These Dcr1-terminated loci correspond to sites of replication stress and DNA damage, likely resulting from transcription-replication collisions. At the rDNA loci, release of Pol II facilitates DNA replication and prevents homologous recombination, which would otherwise lead to loss of rDNA repeats especially during meiosis. Our results reveal a novel role for Dcr1-mediated transcription termination in genome maintenance and may account for widespread regulation of genome stability by nuclear RNAi in higher eukaryotes.

Selective methylation of histone H3 variant H3.1 regulates heterochromatin replication.Jacob Y, Bergamin E, Donoghue MT, Mongeon V, LeBlanc C, Voigt P, Underwood CJ, Brunzelle JS, Michaels SD, Reinberg D, Couture JF, Martienssen RA
Science 2014 Mar 14; 343(6176):1249-53


Histone variants have been proposed to act as determinants for posttranslational modifications with widespread regulatory functions. We identify a histone-modifying enzyme that selectively methylates the replication-dependent histone H3 variant H3.1. The crystal structure of the SET domain of the histone H3 lysine-27 (H3K27) methyltransferase ARABIDOPSIS TRITHORAX-RELATED PROTEIN 5 (ATXR5) in complex with a H3.1 peptide shows that ATXR5 contains a bipartite catalytic domain that specifically "reads" alanine-31 of H3.1. Variation at position 31 between H3.1 and replication-independent H3.3 is conserved in plants and animals, and threonine-31 in H3.3 is responsible for inhibiting the activity of ATXR5 and its paralog, ATXR6. Our results suggest a simple model for the mitotic inheritance of the heterochromatic mark H3K27me1 and the protection of H3.3-enriched genes against heterochromatization during DNA replication.

RNA interference in the nucleus: roles for small RNAs in transcription, epigenetics and beyond.Castel SE, Martienssen RA
Nat Rev Genet 2013 Feb; 14(2):100-12


A growing number of functions are emerging for RNA interference (RNAi) in the nucleus, in addition to well-characterized roles in post-transcriptional gene silencing in the cytoplasm. Epigenetic modifications directed by small RNAs have been shown to cause transcriptional repression in plants, fungi and animals. Additionally, increasing evidence indicates that RNAi regulates transcription through interaction with transcriptional machinery. Nuclear small RNAs include small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) and are implicated in nuclear processes such as transposon regulation, heterochromatin formation, developmental gene regulation and genome stability.

RNAi promotes heterochromatic silencing through replication-coupled release of RNA Pol II.Zaratiegui M, Castel SE, Irvine DV, Kloc A, Ren J, Li F, de Castro E, Marín L, Chang AY, Goto D, Cande WZ, Antequera F, Arcangioli B, Martienssen RA
Nature 2011 Oct 16; 479(7371):135-8


Heterochromatin comprises tightly compacted repetitive regions of eukaryotic chromosomes. The inheritance of heterochromatin through mitosis requires RNA interference (RNAi), which guides histone modification during the DNA replication phase of the cell cycle. Here we show that the alternating arrangement of origins of replication and non-coding RNA in pericentromeric heterochromatin results in competition between transcription and replication in Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Co-transcriptional RNAi releases RNA polymerase II (Pol II), allowing completion of DNA replication by the leading strand DNA polymerase, and associated histone modifying enzymes that spread heterochromatin with the replication fork. In the absence of RNAi, stalled forks are repaired by homologous recombination without histone modification.