Gavin Kelsey

Research Summary

As well as genetic information, the egg and sperm also contribute epigenetic annotations that may influence gene activity after fertilisation. These annotations may be direct modifications of the DNA bases or of the proteins around which the DNA is wrapped into chromatin. Our goal is to understand whether, through epigenetics, factors such as a mother’s age or diet have consequences on the health of a child.
We examine how epigenetic states are set up in oocytes – or egg cells – and influence gene expression in the embryo. For example, repressive chromatin marks in oocytes lead to long-term silencing of genes inherited from the mother, particularly in cells that will form the placenta. We are also interested in how variations in DNA methylation come about in oocytes and whether we can use this variation as a marker for oocyte quality and embryo potential. To investigate these questions, we develop methods to profile epigenetic information in very small numbers of cells or even in single cells.

Latest Publications

Single-cell Atlas of common variable immunodeficiency shows germinal center-associated epigenetic dysregulation in B-cell responses.
Rodríguez-Ubreva J, Arutyunyan A, Bonder MJ, Del Pino-Molina L, Clark SJ, de la Calle-Fabregat C, Garcia-Alonso L, Handfield LF, Ciudad L, Andrés-León E, Krueger F, Català-Moll F, Rodríguez-Cortez VC, Polanski K, Mamanova L, van Dongen S, Kiselev VY, Martínez-Saavedra MT, Heyn H, Martín J, Warnatz K, López-Granados E, Rodríguez-Gallego C, Stegle O, Kelsey G, Vento-Tormo R, Ballestar E

Common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), the most prevalent symptomatic primary immunodeficiency, displays impaired terminal B-cell differentiation and defective antibody responses. Incomplete genetic penetrance and ample phenotypic expressivity in CVID suggest the participation of additional pathogenic mechanisms. Monozygotic (MZ) twins discordant for CVID are uniquely valuable for studying the contribution of epigenetics to the disease. Here, we generate a single-cell epigenomics and transcriptomics census of naïve-to-memory B cell differentiation in a CVID-discordant MZ twin pair. Our analysis identifies DNA methylation, chromatin accessibility and transcriptional defects in memory B-cells mirroring defective cell-cell communication upon activation. These findings are validated in a cohort of CVID patients and healthy donors. Our findings provide a comprehensive multi-omics map of alterations in naïve-to-memory B-cell transition in CVID and indicate links between the epigenome and immune cell cross-talk. Our resource, publicly available at the Human Cell Atlas, gives insight into future diagnosis and treatments of CVID patients.

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Nature communications, 13, 1, 01 Apr 2022

PMID: 35365635

Loss of histone methyltransferase SETD1B in oogenesis results in the redistribution of genomic histone 3 lysine 4 trimethylation.
Hanna CW, Huang J, Belton C, Reinhardt S, Dahl A, Andrews S, Stewart AF, Kranz A, Kelsey G

Histone 3 lysine 4 trimethylation (H3K4me3) is an epigenetic mark found at gene promoters and CpG islands. H3K4me3 is essential for mammalian development, yet mechanisms underlying its genomic targeting are poorly understood. H3K4me3 methyltransferases SETD1B and MLL2 (KMT2B) are essential for oogenesis. We investigated changes in H3K4me3 in Setd1b conditional knockout (cKO) oocytes using ultra-low input ChIP-seq, with comparisons to DNA methylation and gene expression analyses. H3K4me3 was redistributed in Setd1b cKO oocytes showing losses at active gene promoters associated with downregulated gene expression. Remarkably, many regions also gained H3K4me3, in particular those that were DNA hypomethylated, transcriptionally inactive and CpG-rich, which are hallmarks of MLL2 targets. Consequently, loss of SETD1B disrupts the balance between MLL2 and de novo DNA methyltransferases in determining the epigenetic landscape during oogenesis. Our work reveals two distinct, complementary mechanisms of genomic targeting of H3K4me3 in oogenesis, with SETD1B linked to gene expression and MLL2 to CpG content.

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Nucleic acids research, 1, 1, 07 Feb 2022

PMID: 35137160

Sex-specific chromatin remodelling safeguards transcription in germ cells.
Huang TC, Wang YF, Vazquez-Ferrer E, Theofel I, Requena CE, Hanna CW, Kelsey G, Hajkova P

Stability of the epigenetic landscape underpins maintenance of the cell-type-specific transcriptional profile. As one of the main repressive epigenetic systems, DNA methylation has been shown to be important for long-term gene silencing; its loss leads to ectopic and aberrant transcription in differentiated cells and cancer. The developing mouse germ line endures global changes in DNA methylation in the absence of widespread transcriptional activation. Here, using an ultra-low-input native chromatin immunoprecipitation approach, we show that following DNA demethylation the gonadal primordial germ cells undergo remodelling of repressive histone modifications, resulting in a sex-specific signature in mice. We further demonstrate that Polycomb has a central role in transcriptional control in the newly hypomethylated germline genome as the genetic loss of Ezh2 leads to aberrant transcriptional activation, retrotransposon derepression and dramatic loss of developing female germ cells. This sex-specific effect of Ezh2 deletion is explained by the distinct landscape of repressive modifications observed in male and female germ cells. Overall, our study provides insight into the dynamic interplay between repressive chromatin modifications in the context of a developmental reprogramming system.

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Nature, 1, 1, 08 Dec 2021

PMID: 34880491