Functional and genomic analysis of MEF2 transcription factors in neural development
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CitationAndzelm, Milena Maria. 2014. Functional and genomic analysis of MEF2 transcription factors in neural development. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractDevelopment of the central nervous system requires the precise coordination of intrinsic genetic programs to instruct cell fate, synaptic connectivity and function. The MEF2 family of transcription factors (TFs) plays many essential roles in neural development; however, the mechanisms of gene regulation by MEF2 in neurons remain unclear. This dissertation focuses on the molecular mechanisms by which MEF2 binds to the genome, activates enhancers, and regulates gene expression within the developing nervous system.
We find that one MEF2 family member in particular, MEF2D, is an essential regulator of the development and function of retinal photoreceptors, the primary sensory neurons responsible for vision. Despite being expressed broadly across many tissues, in the retina MEF2D binds to retina-specific enhancers and regulates photoreceptor-specific transcripts, including critical retinal disease genes. Functional genome-wide analyses demonstrate that MEF2D achieves tissue-specific binding and action through cooperation with a retina-specific TF, CRX. CRX recruits MEF2D away from canonical MEF2 binding sites by promoting MEF2D binding to retina-specific enhancers that lack a strong consensus MEF2 binding sequence. MEF2D and CRX then synergistically co-activate these enhancers to regulate a cohort of genes critical for normal photoreceptor development. These findings demonstrate that MEF2D, a broadly expressed TF, contributes to retina-specific gene expression in photoreceptor development by binding to and activating tissue-specific enhancers cooperatively with CRX, a tissue-specific co-factor.
A major unresolved feature of MEF2D function in the retina is that the number of MEF2D binding sites significantly exceeds the number of genes that are dependent on MEF2D for expression. We investigated causes of this discrepancy in an unbiased manner by characterizing the activity of MEF2D-bound enhancers genome-wide. We find that many MEF2D-bound enhancers are inactive. Furthermore, less than half of active MEF2D-bound enhancers require MEF2D for activity, suggesting that significant redundancies exist for TF function within enhancers. These findings demonstrate that observed TF binding significantly overestimates direct TF regulation of gene expression. Taken together, our results suggest that the broadly expressed TF MEF2D achieves tissue specificity through competitive recruitment to enhancers by tissue-specific TFs and activates a small subset of enhancers to regulate genes.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:13070059
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