‘Maintenance of macrophage transcriptional programs and intestinal homeostasis by epigenetic reader SP140’. Science Immunology (2017) Vol. 2, Issue 9



Epigenetic “readers” that recognize defined posttranslational modifications on histones have become desirable therapeutic targets for cancer and inflammation. SP140 is one such bromodomain- and plant homeodomain (PHD)–containing reader with immune-restricted expression, and single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within SP140 associate with Crohn’s disease (CD). However, the function of SP140 and the consequences of disease-associated SP140 SNPs have remained unclear. We show that SP140 is critical for transcriptional programs that uphold the macrophage state. SP140 preferentially occupies promoters of silenced, lineage-inappropriate genes bearing the histone modification H3K27me3, such as the HOXA cluster in human macrophages, and ensures their repression. Depletion of SP140 in mouse or human macrophages resulted in severely compromised microbe-induced activation. We reveal that peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) or B cells from individuals carrying CD-associated SNPs within SP140 have defective SP140 messenger RNA splicing and diminished SP140 protein levels. Moreover, CD patients carrying SP140 SNPs displayed suppressed innate immune gene signatures in a mixed population of PBMCs that stratified them from other CD patients. Hematopoietic-specific knockdown of Sp140 in mice resulted in exacerbated dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)–induced colitis, and low SP140 levels in human CD intestinal biopsies correlated with relatively lower intestinal innate cytokine levels and improved response to anti–tumor necrosis factor (TNF) therapy. Thus, the epigenetic reader SP140 is a key regulator of macrophage transcriptional programs for cellular state, and a loss of SP140 due to genetic variation contributes to a molecularly defined subset of CD characterized by ineffective innate immunity, normally critical for intestinal homeostasis.

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‘Induction and suppression of antiviral RNA interference by influenza A virus in mammalian cells’. Nature Microbiology (2016) Vol. 2

Influenza A virus (IAV) causes annual epidemics and occasional pandemics, and is one of the best-characterized human RNA viral pathogens1. However, a physiologically relevant role for the RNA interference (RNAi) suppressor activity of the IAV non-structural protein 1 (NS1), reported over a decade ago2, remains unknown. Plant and insect viruses have evolved diverse virulence proteins to suppress RNAi as their hosts produce virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that direct specific antiviral defence by an RNAi mechanism dependent on the slicing activity of Argonaute proteins (AGOs). Recent studies have documented induction and suppression of antiviral RNAi in mouse embryonic stem cells and suckling mice. However, it is still under debate whether infection by IAV or any other RNA virus that infects humans induces and/or suppresses antiviral RNAi in mature mamma- lian somatic cells. Here, we demonstrate that mature human somatic cells produce abundant virus-derived siRNAs co-immunoprecipitated with AGOs in response to IAV infection. We show that the biogenesis of viral siRNAs from IAV double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) precursors in infected cells is mediated by wild-type human Dicer and potently suppressed by both NS1 of IAV as well as virion protein 35 (VP35) of Ebola and Marburg filoviruses. We further demonstrate that the slicing catalytic activity of AGO2 inhibits IAV and other RNA viruses in mature mammalian cells, in an interferon-independent fashion. Altogether, our work shows that IAV infection induces and suppresses antiviral RNAi in differentiated mammalian somatic cells.

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‘Beyond receptors and signaling: epigenetic factors in the regulation of innate immunity’. Immunology & Cell Biology (2015) Vol. 93, Issue 3.

The interaction of innate immune cells with pathogens leads to changes in gene expression that elicit our body’s first line of defense against infection. Although signaling pathways and transcription factors have a central role, it is becoming increasingly clear that epigenetic factors, in the form of DNA or histone modifications, as well as noncoding RNAs, are critical for generating the necessary cell lineage as well as context-specific gene expression in diverse innate immune cell types. Much of the epigenetic landscape is set during cellular differentiation; however, pathogens and other environmental triggers also induce changes in histone modifications that can either promote tolerance or ‘train’ innate immune cells for a more robust antigen- independent secondary response. Here we review the important contribution of epigenetic factors to the initiation, maintenance and training of innate immune responses. In addition, we explore how pathogens have hijacked these mechanisms for their benefit and the potential of small molecules targeting chromatin machinery as a way to boost or subdue the innate immune response in disease.

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‘Suppression of inflammation by a synthetic histone mimic’. Nature (2010) Vol. 468, Issue 7327.

Interaction of pathogens with cells of the immune system results in activation of inflammatory gene expression. This response, although vital for immune defence, is frequently deleterious to the host due to the exaggerated production of inflammatory proteins. The scope of inflammatory responses reflects the activation state of signalling proteins upstream of inflammatory genes as well as signal- induced assembly of nuclear chromatin complexes that support mRNA expression1–4. Recognition of post-translationally modified histones by nuclear proteins that initiate mRNA transcription and support mRNA elongation is a critical step in the regulation of gene expression5–10. Here we present a novel pharmacological approach that targets inflammatory gene expression by interfering with the recognition of acetylated histones by the bromodomain and extra terminal domain (BET) family of proteins. We describe a synthetic compound (I-BET) that by ‘mimicking’ acetylated histones disrupts chromatin complexes responsible for the expression of key inflam- matory genes in activated macrophages, and confers protection against lipopolysaccharide-induced endotoxic shock and bacteria- induced sepsis. Our findings suggest that synthetic compounds specifically targeting proteins that recognize post-translationally modified histones can serve as a new generation of immunomodulatory drugs.

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