skip to primary navigationskip to content

12.06.20 Transcription factor Ascl1's long residency on chromatin is likely to stabilise cell fate commitment

last modified Dec 23, 2020 12:10 PM
John Gurdon's group used a binding competition assay to show that the nerve cell determinant Ascl1 has a long-term association with its chromatin binding site, stabilising gene expression and cell fate commitment

Long-term association of a transcription factor with its chromatin binding site can stabilize gene expression and cell fate commitment

Gurdon JB, Javed K, Vodnala M and Garrett N (2020)

Proc Natl Acad Sci


Signficance statement from the paper

Some kinds of transcription factor proteins are very important in initiating and guiding cell fate differentiation. Overexpression of these factors can force many other kinds of cells to become muscle or nerve. Examples are MyoD for muscle and Ascl1 for nerve. It is not known how long such a factor must remain bound to its binding site for it to have its function; this could be seconds, minutes, hours, or days. We have developed a procedure to determine the required residence time for the Ascl1 nerve factor to have its function. This factor remains closely associated with its chromatin binding site for hours or days. This may be a general characteristic of such factors in nondividing (adult) cells.


Abstract from the paper

Some lineage-determining transcription factors are overwhelmingly important in directing embryonic cells to a particular differentiation pathway, such as Ascl1 for nerve. They also have an exceptionally strong ability to force cells to change from an unrelated pathway to one preferred by their action. Transcription factors are believed to have a very short residence time of only a few seconds on their specific DNA or chromatin-binding sites.

We have developed a procedure in which DNA containing one copy of the binding site for the neural-inducing factor Ascl1 is injected directly into a Xenopus oocyte nucleus which has been preloaded with a limiting amount of the Ascl1 transcription factor protein. This is followed by a further injection of DNA as a competitor, either in a plasmid or in chromosomal DNA, containing the same binding site but with a different reporter. Importantly, expression of the reporter provides a measure of the function of the transcription factor in addition to its residence time. The same long residence time and resistance to competition are seen with the estrogen receptor and its DNA response elements.

We find that in this nondividing oocyte, the nerve-inducing factor Ascl1 can remain bound to a specific chromatin site for hours or days and thereby help to stabilize gene expression. This stability of transcription factor binding to chromatin is a necessary part of its action because removal of this factor causes discontinuation of its effect on gene expression. Stable transcription factor binding may be a characteristic of nondividing cells.

Gurdon PNAS Fig1AB wholeExcerpt of Fig.1 from the paper describing experimental design. (A) The sequence of injections on living oocytes of Xenopus. The normal injection volume is 14 nL, aimed for the cytoplasm (mRNA) or the nucleus (GV). Nucleic acids were made up in water for injection. (B) DNA plasmid composition.



Read more about research in the Gurdon lab.

Watch John Gurdon describe his research in this short YouTube video.

Institute reopening

The Gurdon Institute reopened on Monday 15th June. Many staff will continue to work from home, and all staff may be contacted by email.

Studying development to understand disease

The Gurdon Institute is funded by Wellcome and Cancer Research UK to study the biology of development, and how normal growth and maintenance go wrong in cancer and other diseases.

combinedLogo x3 trans2018


Share this