PUBLICATIONS

October 2020 | Nature Communications
TASOR is a pseudo-PARP that directs HUSH complex assembly and epigenetic transposon control

The HUSH complex represses retroviruses, transposons and genes to maintain the integrity of vertebrate genomes. HUSH regulates deposition of the epigenetic mark H3K9me3, but how its three core subunits - TASOR, MPP8 and Periphilin - contribute to assembly and targeting of the complex remains unknown. Here, we define the biochemical basis of HUSH assembly and find that its modular architecture resembles the yeast RNA-induced transcriptional silencing complex. TASOR, the central HUSH subunit, associates with RNA processing components. TASOR is required for H3K9me3 deposition over LINE-1 repeats and repetitive exons in transcribed genes. In the context of previous studies, this suggests that an RNA intermediate is important for HUSH activity. We dissect the TASOR and MPP8 domains necessary for transgene repression. Structure-function analyses reveal TASOR bears a catalytically-inactive PARP domain necessary for targeted H3K9me3 deposition. We conclude that TASOR is a multifunctional pseudo-PARP that directs HUSH assembly and epigenetic regulation of repetitive genomic targets.

The HUSH complex represses retroviruses, transposons and genes to maintain the integrity of vertebrate genomes. HUSH regulates deposition of the epigenetic mark H3K9me3, but how its three core subunits - TASOR, MPP8 and Periphilin - contribute to assembly and targeting of the complex remains unknown. Here, we define the biochemical basis of HUSH assembly and find that its modular architecture resembles the yeast RNA-induced transcriptional silencing complex. TASOR, the central HUSH subunit, associates with RNA processing components. TASOR is required for H3K9me3 deposition over LINE-1 repeats and repetitive exons in transcribed genes. In the context of previous studies, this suggests that an RNA intermediate is important for HUSH activity. We dissect the TASOR and MPP8 domains necessary for transgene repression. Structure-function analyses reveal TASOR bears a catalytically-inactive PARP domain necessary for targeted H3K9me3 deposition. We conclude that TASOR is a multifunctional pseudo-PARP that directs HUSH assembly and epigenetic regulation of repetitive genomic targets.

September 2020 | Nucleic Acids Research
Periphilin self-association underpins epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex

Transcription of integrated DNA from viruses or transposable elements is tightly regulated to prevent pathogenesis. The Human Silencing Hub (HUSH), composed of Periphilin, TASOR and MPP8, silences transcriptionally active viral and endogenous transgenes. HUSH recruits effectors that alter the epigenetic landscape and chromatin structure, but how HUSH recognizes target loci and represses their expression remains unclear. We identify the physicochemical properties of Periphilin necessary for HUSH assembly and silencing. A disordered N-terminal domain (NTD) and structured C-terminal domain are essential for silencing. A crystal structure of the Periphilin-TASOR minimal core complex shows Periphilin forms an α-helical homodimer, bound by a single TASOR molecule. The NTD forms insoluble aggregates through an arginine/tyrosine-rich sequence reminiscent of low-complexity regions from self-associating RNA-binding proteins. Residues required for TASOR binding and aggregation were required for HUSH-dependent silencing and genome-wide deposition of repressive mark H3K9me3. The NTD was functionally complemented by low-complexity regions from certain RNA-binding proteins and proteins that form condensates or fibrils. Our work suggests the associative properties of Periphilin promote HUSH aggregation at target loci.

Transcription of integrated DNA from viruses or transposable elements is tightly regulated to prevent pathogenesis. The Human Silencing Hub (HUSH), composed of Periphilin, TASOR and MPP8, silences transcriptionally active viral and endogenous transgenes. HUSH recruits effectors that alter the epigenetic landscape and chromatin structure, but how HUSH recognizes target loci and represses their expression remains unclear. We identify the physicochemical properties of Periphilin necessary for HUSH assembly and silencing. A disordered N-terminal domain (NTD) and structured C-terminal domain are essential for silencing. A crystal structure of the Periphilin-TASOR minimal core complex shows Periphilin forms an α-helical homodimer, bound by a single TASOR molecule. The NTD forms insoluble aggregates through an arginine/tyrosine-rich sequence reminiscent of low-complexity regions from self-associating RNA-binding proteins. Residues required for TASOR binding and aggregation were required for HUSH-dependent silencing and genome-wide deposition of repressive mark H3K9me3. The NTD was functionally complemented by low-complexity regions from certain RNA-binding proteins and proteins that form condensates or fibrils. Our work suggests the associative properties of Periphilin promote HUSH aggregation at target loci.

July 2020 | The American Journal of Human Genetics
De Novo Variants in the ATPase Module of MORC2 Cause a Neurodevelopmental Disorder with Growth Retardation and Variable Craniofacial Dysmorphism

MORC2 encodes an ATPase that plays a role in chromatin remodeling, DNA repair, and transcriptional regulation. Heterozygous variants in MORC2 have been reported in individuals with autosomal-dominant Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2Z and spinal muscular atrophy, and the onset of symptoms ranges from infancy to the second decade of life. Here, we present a cohort of 20 individuals referred for exome sequencing who harbor pathogenic variants in the ATPase module of MORC2. Individuals presented with a similar phenotype consisting of developmental delay, intellectual disability, growth retardation, microcephaly, and variable craniofacial dysmorphism. Weakness, hyporeflexia, and electrophysiologic abnormalities suggestive of neuropathy were frequently observed but were not the predominant feature. Five of 18 individuals for whom brain imaging was available had lesions reminiscent of those observed in Leigh syndrome, and five of six individuals who had dilated eye exams had retinal pigmentary abnormalities. Functional assays revealed that these MORC2 variants result in hyperactivation of epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex, supporting their pathogenicity. The described set of morphological, growth, developmental, and neurological findings and medical concerns expands the spectrum of genetic disorders resulting from pathogenic variants in MORC2.

MORC2 encodes an ATPase that plays a role in chromatin remodeling, DNA repair, and transcriptional regulation. Heterozygous variants in MORC2 have been reported in individuals with autosomal-dominant Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2Z and spinal muscular atrophy, and the onset of symptoms ranges from infancy to the second decade of life. Here, we present a cohort of 20 individuals referred for exome sequencing who harbor pathogenic variants in the ATPase module of MORC2. Individuals presented with a similar phenotype consisting of developmental delay, intellectual disability, growth retardation, microcephaly, and variable craniofacial dysmorphism. Weakness, hyporeflexia, and electrophysiologic abnormalities suggestive of neuropathy were frequently observed but were not the predominant feature. Five of 18 individuals for whom brain imaging was available had lesions reminiscent of those observed in Leigh syndrome, and five of six individuals who had dilated eye exams had retinal pigmentary abnormalities. Functional assays revealed that these MORC2 variants result in hyperactivation of epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex, supporting their pathogenicity. The described set of morphological, growth, developmental, and neurological findings and medical concerns expands the spectrum of genetic disorders resulting from pathogenic variants in MORC2.

January 2019 | Nature Protocols
Differential viral accessibility (DIVA) identifies alterations in chromatin architecture through large-scale mapping of lentiviral integration sites

Alterations in chromatin structure play a major role in the epigenetic regulation of gene expression. Here, we describe a step-by-step protocol for differential viral accessibility (DIVA), a method for identifying changes in chromatin accessibility genome-wide. Commonly used methods for mapping accessible genomic loci have strong preferences toward detecting 'open' chromatin found at regulatory regions but are not well suited to studying chromatin accessibility in gene bodies and intergenic regions. DIVA overcomes this limitation, enabling a broader range of sites to be interrogated. Conceptually, DIVA is similar to ATAC-seq in that it relies on the integration of exogenous DNA into the genome to map accessible chromatin, except that chromatin architecture is probed through mapping integration sites of exogenous lentiviruses.

Alterations in chromatin structure play a major role in the epigenetic regulation of gene expression. Here, we describe a step-by-step protocol for differential viral accessibility (DIVA), a method for identifying changes in chromatin accessibility genome-wide. Commonly used methods for mapping accessible genomic loci have strong preferences toward detecting 'open' chromatin found at regulatory regions but are not well suited to studying chromatin accessibility in gene bodies and intergenic regions. DIVA overcomes this limitation, enabling a broader range of sites to be interrogated. Conceptually, DIVA is similar to ATAC-seq in that it relies on the integration of exogenous DNA into the genome to map accessible chromatin, except that chromatin architecture is probed through mapping integration sites of exogenous lentiviruses.

June 2018 | Genome Research
The HUSH complex cooperates with TRIM28 to repress young retrotransposons and new genes

Retrotransposons encompass half of the human genome and contribute to the formation of heterochromatin, which provides nuclear structure and regulates gene expression. Our collaborators in the Rowe lab at UCL show that the HUSH complex contributes to de novo repression and DNA methylation of a SVA retrotransposon reporter. Using naïve versus primed mouse pluripotent stem cells, they reveal a critical role for the HUSH complex in naïve cells, implicating it in programming epigenetic marks in development. The HUSH component TASOR represses evolutionarily young L1s while TRIM28 is necessary to repress both ERVs and young L1s. Genes co-repressed by TRIM28 and TASOR are evolutionarily young, or exhibit tissue-specific expression, are enriched in young L1s, and display evidence for regulation through LTR promoters. Overall, these data indicate that the HUSH complex and TRIM28 co-repress young retrotransposons and new genes rewired by retrotransposon noncoding DNA.

Retrotransposons encompass half of the human genome and contribute to the formation of heterochromatin, which provides nuclear structure and regulates gene expression. Our collaborators in the Rowe lab at UCL show that the HUSH complex contributes to de novo repression and DNA methylation of a SVA retrotransposon reporter. Using naïve versus primed mouse pluripotent stem cells, they reveal a critical role for the HUSH complex in naïve cells, implicating it in programming epigenetic marks in development. The HUSH component TASOR represses evolutionarily young L1s while TRIM28 is necessary to repress both ERVs and young L1s. Genes co-repressed by TRIM28 and TASOR are evolutionarily young, or exhibit tissue-specific expression, are enriched in young L1s, and display evidence for regulation through LTR promoters. Overall, these data indicate that the HUSH complex and TRIM28 co-repress young retrotransposons and new genes rewired by retrotransposon noncoding DNA.

February 2018 | Nature Communications
Neuropathic MORC2 mutations perturb GHKL ATPase dimerization dynamics and epigenetic silencing by multiple structural mechanisms

Missense mutations in MORC2 cause neuropathies including spinal muscular atrophy and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. We recently identified MORC2 as an effector of epigenetic silencing by the human silencing hub (HUSH). Our collaborators in the Modis lab at the MRC-LMB report crystal structures of wild-type and neuropathic forms of a human MORC2 fragment comprising the GHKL-type ATPase module and CW-type zinc finger. This fragment dimerizes in the presence of ATP and contains a critical DNA-binding coiled-coil insertion absent in other GHKL ATPases. Disease mutations change the dynamics of dimerization, thereby leading to the modulation of HUSH function in MORC2-associated neuropathies.

Missense mutations in MORC2 cause neuropathies including spinal muscular atrophy and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. We recently identified MORC2 as an effector of epigenetic silencing by the human silencing hub (HUSH). Our collaborators in the Modis lab at the MRC-LMB report crystal structures of wild-type and neuropathic forms of a human MORC2 fragment comprising the GHKL-type ATPase module and CW-type zinc finger. This fragment dimerizes in the presence of ATP and contains a critical DNA-binding coiled-coil insertion absent in other GHKL ATPases. Disease mutations change the dynamics of dimerization, thereby leading to the modulation of HUSH function in MORC2-associated neuropathies.

July 2017 | Nature Genetics
Hyperactivation of HUSH complex function by Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease mutation in MORC2

Dominant mutations in the MORC2 gene have recently been shown to cause axonal Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, but the cellular function of MORC2 is poorly understood. Here, through a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9-mediated forward genetic screen, we identified MORC2 as an essential gene required for epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex. HUSH recruits MORC2 to target sites in heterochromatin. We exploited a new method, differential viral accessibility (DIVA), to show that loss of MORC2 results in chromatin decompaction at these target loci, which is concomitant with a loss of H3K9me3 deposition and transcriptional derepression. The ATPase activity of MORC2 is critical for HUSH-mediated silencing, and the most common alteration affecting the ATPase domain in CMT patients (R252W) hyperactivates HUSH-mediated repression in neuronal cells. These data define a critical role for MORC2 in epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex and provide a mechanistic basis underpinning the role of MORC2 mutations in CMT disease.

Dominant mutations in the MORC2 gene have recently been shown to cause axonal Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, but the cellular function of MORC2 is poorly understood. Here, through a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9-mediated forward genetic screen, we identified MORC2 as an essential gene required for epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex. HUSH recruits MORC2 to target sites in heterochromatin. We exploited a new method, differential viral accessibility (DIVA), to show that loss of MORC2 results in chromatin decompaction at these target loci, which is concomitant with a loss of H3K9me3 deposition and transcriptional derepression. The ATPase activity of MORC2 is critical for HUSH-mediated silencing, and the most common alteration affecting the ATPase domain in CMT patients (R252W) hyperactivates HUSH-mediated repression in neuronal cells. These data define a critical role for MORC2 in epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex and provide a mechanistic basis underpinning the role of MORC2 mutations in CMT disease.

October 2016 | Cell Reports
ATF7IP-Mediated Stabilization of the Histone Methyltransferase SETDB1 Is Essential for Heterochromatin Formation by the HUSH Complex

The histone methyltransferase SETDB1 plays a central role in repressive chromatin processes, but the functional requirement for its binding partner ATF7IP has remained enigmatic. Here, we show that ATF7IP is essential for SETDB1 stability: nuclear SETDB1 protein is degraded by the proteasome upon ablation of ATF7IP. As a result, ATF7IP is critical for repression that requires H3K9 trimethylation by SETDB1, including transgene silencing by the HUSH complex. ATF7IP and SETDB1 knockout cells exhibit near-identical defects in the global deposition of H3K9me3, which results in similar dysregulation of the transcriptome. Overall, these data identify a critical functional role for ATF7IP in heterochromatin formation by regulating SETDB1 abundance in the nucleus.

The histone methyltransferase SETDB1 plays a central role in repressive chromatin processes, but the functional requirement for its binding partner ATF7IP has remained enigmatic. Here, we show that ATF7IP is essential for SETDB1 stability: nuclear SETDB1 protein is degraded by the proteasome upon ablation of ATF7IP. As a result, ATF7IP is critical for repression that requires H3K9 trimethylation by SETDB1, including transgene silencing by the HUSH complex. ATF7IP and SETDB1 knockout cells exhibit near-identical defects in the global deposition of H3K9me3, which results in similar dysregulation of the transcriptome. Overall, these data identify a critical functional role for ATF7IP in heterochromatin formation by regulating SETDB1 abundance in the nucleus.

April 2016 | BioEssays
Position-effect variegation revisited: HUSHing up heterochromatin in human cells

Much of what we understand about heterochromatin formation in mammals has been extrapolated from forward genetic screens for modifiers of position-effect variegation (PEV) in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The recent identification of the HUSH (Human Silencing Hub) complex suggests that more recent evolutionary developments contribute to the mechanisms underlying PEV in human cells. Although HUSH-mediated repression also involves heterochromatin spreading through the reading and writing of the repressive H3K9me3 histone modification, clear orthologues of HUSH subunits are not found in Drosophila but are conserved in vertebrates. Here we compare the insights into the mechanisms of PEV derived from genetic screens in the fly, the mouse and in human cells, review what is currently known about the HUSH complex and discuss the implications of HUSH-mediated silencing for viral latency.

Much of what we understand about heterochromatin formation in mammals has been extrapolated from forward genetic screens for modifiers of position-effect variegation (PEV) in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The recent identification of the HUSH (Human Silencing Hub) complex suggests that more recent evolutionary developments contribute to the mechanisms underlying PEV in human cells. Although HUSH-mediated repression also involves heterochromatin spreading through the reading and writing of the repressive H3K9me3 histone modification, clear orthologues of HUSH subunits are not found in Drosophila but are conserved in vertebrates. Here we compare the insights into the mechanisms of PEV derived from genetic screens in the fly, the mouse and in human cells, review what is currently known about the HUSH complex and discuss the implications of HUSH-mediated silencing for viral latency.

June 2015 | Science
Epigenetic silencing by the HUSH complex mediates position-effect variegation in human cells

Forward genetic screens in Drosophila melanogaster for modifiers of position-effect variegation have revealed the basis of much of our understanding of heterochromatin. We took an analogous approach to identify genes required for epigenetic repression in human cells. A nonlethal forward genetic screen in near-haploid KBM7 cells identified the HUSH (human silencing hub) complex, comprising three poorly characterized proteins, TASOR, MPP8, and Periphilin; this complex is absent from Drosophila but is conserved from fish to humans. Our results suggest that the HUSH complex is recruited to genomic loci rich in H3K9me3, where subsequent recruitment of the methyltransferase SETDB1 is required for further H3K9me3 deposition to maintain transcriptional silencing at endogenous genes and at retroviruses integrated into heterochromatin.

Forward genetic screens in Drosophila melanogaster for modifiers of position-effect variegation have revealed the basis of much of our understanding of heterochromatin. We took an analogous approach to identify genes required for epigenetic repression in human cells. A nonlethal forward genetic screen in near-haploid KBM7 cells identified the HUSH (human silencing hub) complex, comprising three poorly characterized proteins, TASOR, MPP8, and Periphilin; this complex is absent from Drosophila but is conserved from fish to humans. Our results suggest that the HUSH complex is recruited to genomic loci rich in H3K9me3, where subsequent recruitment of the methyltransferase SETDB1 is required for further H3K9me3 deposition to maintain transcriptional silencing at endogenous genes and at retroviruses integrated into heterochromatin.