A functional genomics approach to map transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene regulatory networks
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It has been suggested that organismal complexity correlates with the complexity of gene regulation. Transcriptional control of gene expression is mediated by binding of regulatory proteins to cis-acting sequences on the genome. Hence, it is crucial to identify the chromosomal targets of transcription factors (TFs) to delineate transcriptional regulatory networks underlying gene expression programs. The development of ChIP-chip technology has enabled high throughput mapping of TF binding sites across the genome. However, there are many limitations to the technology including the availability of whole genome arrays for complex organisms such human or mouse. To circumvent these limitations, we developed the Sequence Tag Analysis of Genomic Enrichment (STAGE) methodology that is based on extracting short DNA sequences or “tags” from ChIP-enriched DNA. With improvements in sequencing technologies, we applied the recently developed ChIP-Seq technique i.e. ChIP followed by ultra high throughput sequencing, to identify binding sites for the TF E2F4 across the human genome. We identified previously uncharacterized E2F4 binding sites in intergenic regions and found that several microRNAs are potential E2F4 targets. Binding of TFs to their respective chromosomal targets requires access of the TF to its regulatory element, which is strongly influenced by nucleosomal remodeling. In order to understand nucleosome remodeling in response to transcriptional perturbation, we used ultra high throughput sequencing to map nucleosome positions in yeast that were subjected to heat shock or were grown normally. We generated nucleosome remodeling profiles across yeast promoters and found that specific remodeling patterns correlate with specific TFs active during the transcriptional reprogramming. Another important aspect of gene regulation operates at the post-transcriptional level. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are ~22 nucleotide non-coding RNAs that suppress translation or mark mRNAs for degradation. MiRNAs regulate TFs and in turn can be regulated by TFs. We characterized a TF-miRNA network involving the oncofactor Myc and the miRNA miR-22 that suppresses the interferon pathway as primary fibroblasts enter a stage of rapid proliferation. We found that miR-22 suppresses the interferon pathway by inhibiting nuclear translocation of the TF NF-kappaB. Our results show how the oncogenic TF Myc cross-talks with other TF regulatory pathways via a miRNA intermediary.