Profiling of chromatin accessibility and identification of general cis-regulatory mechanisms that control two ocular lens differentiation pathways

Yilin Zhao, Deyou Zheng, Ales Cvekl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Background: Promoters and enhancers are cis-regulatory DNA sequences that control specificity and quantity of transcription. Both are rich on clusters of cis-acting sites that interact with sequence-specific DNA-binding transcription factors (TFs). At the level of chromatin, these regions display increased nuclease sensitivity, reduced nucleosome density, including nucleosome-free regions, and specific combinations of posttranslational modifications of core histone proteins. Together, "open" and "closed" chromatins represent transcriptionally active and repressed states of individual genes, respectively. Cellular differentiation is marked by changes in local chromatin structure. Lens morphogenesis, regulated by TF Pax6, includes differentiation of epithelial precursor cells into lens fibers in parallel with differentiation of epithelial precursors into the mature lens epithelium. Results: Using ATAC-seq, we investigated dynamics of chromatin changes during mouse lens fibers and epithelium differentiation. Tissue-specific features of these processes are demonstrated via comparative studies of embryonic stem cells, forebrain, and liver chromatins. Unbiased analysis reveals cis-regulatory logic of lens differentiation through known (e.g., AP-1, Ets, Hsf4, Maf, and Pax6 sites) and novel (e.g., CTCF, Tead, and NF1) motifs. Twenty-six DNA-binding TFs, recognizing these cis-motifs, are markedly up-regulated in differentiating lens fibers. As specific examples, our ATAC-seq data uncovered both the regulatory regions and TF binding motifs in Foxe3, Prox1, and Mip loci that are consistent with previous, though incomplete, experimental data. A cross-examination of Pax6 binding with ATAC-seq data demonstrated that Pax6 bound to both open (H3K27ac and P300-enriched) and closed chromatin domains in lens and forebrain. Conclusions: Our study has generated the first lens chromatin accessibility maps that support a general model of stage-specific chromatin changes associated with transcriptional activities of batteries of genes required for lens fiber cell formation. Analysis of active (or open) promoters and enhancers reveals important cis-DNA motifs that establish the molecular foundation for temporally and spatially regulated gene expression in lens. Together, our data and models open new avenues for the field to conduct mechanistic studies of transcriptional control regions, reconstruction of gene regulatory networks that govern lens morphogenesis, and identification of cataract-causing mutations in noncoding sequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalEpigenetics and Chromatin
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 3 2019


  • ATAC-seq
  • Differentiation
  • Lens
  • Open chromatin
  • RNA-seq
  • Tissue specificity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics

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