Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Peter Rugg-Gunn

Research Summary

We are interested in understanding how the epigenome is established during human development and stem cell differentiation, and how epigenetic information changes over the life course of a person.

To research these topics, we use different types of stem cell (primarily human pluripotent stem cells) in combination with a variety of molecular and genetic approaches to characterise and perturb their epigenomes. The stem cell models are sometimes complemented with the characterisation of mouse and human embryos at very early stages in their development.

This research is important because establishing our epigenomes correctly during development has long lasting consequences on our health, and we need to know more about how it happens and why it sometimes goes wrong. Our work also provides new avenues for improving the epigenetic stability of human pluripotent stem cells, and our abilitiy to drive their specialisation towards useful cell types, which are essential requirements to fulfill their promise in regenerative medicine. 

Latest Publications

Genome-Scale Oscillations in DNA Methylation during Exit from Pluripotency.
Rulands S, Lee HJ, Clark SJ, Angermueller C, Smallwood SA, Krueger F, Mohammed H, Dean W, Nichols J, Rugg-Gunn P, Kelsey G, Stegle O, Simons BD, Reik W

Pluripotency is accompanied by the erasure of parental epigenetic memory, with naïve pluripotent cells exhibiting global DNA hypomethylation both in vitro and in vivo. Exit from pluripotency and priming for differentiation into somatic lineages is associated with genome-wide de novo DNA methylation. We show that during this phase, co-expression of enzymes required for DNA methylation turnover, DNMT3s and TETs, promotes cell-to-cell variability in this epigenetic mark. Using a combination of single-cell sequencing and quantitative biophysical modeling, we show that this variability is associated with coherent, genome-scale oscillations in DNA methylation with an amplitude dependent on CpG density. Analysis of parallel single-cell transcriptional and epigenetic profiling provides evidence for oscillatory dynamics both in vitro and in vivo. These observations provide insights into the emergence of epigenetic heterogeneity during early embryo development, indicating that dynamic changes in DNA methylation might influence early cell fate decisions.

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Cell systems, , 2405-4712, , 2018

PMID: 30031774

Promoter interactome of human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes connects GWAS regions to cardiac gene networks.
Choy MK, Javierre BM, Williams SG, Baross SL, Liu Y, Wingett SW, Akbarov A, Wallace C, Freire-Pritchett P, Rugg-Gunn PJ, Spivakov M, Fraser P, Keavney BD

Long-range chromosomal interactions bring distal regulatory elements and promoters together to regulate gene expression in biological processes. By performing promoter capture Hi-C (PCHi-C) on human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs), we show that such promoter interactions are a key mechanism by which enhancers contact their target genes after hESC-CM differentiation from hESCs. We also show that the promoter interactome of hESC-CMs is associated with expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) in cardiac left ventricular tissue; captures the dynamic process of genome reorganisation after hESC-CM differentiation; overlaps genome-wide association study (GWAS) regions associated with heart rate; and identifies new candidate genes in such regions. These findings indicate that regulatory elements in hESC-CMs identified by our approach control gene expression involved in ventricular conduction and rhythm of the heart. The study of promoter interactions in other hESC-derived cell types may be of utility in functional investigation of GWAS-associated regions.

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Nature communications, 9, 2041-1723, 2526, 2018

PMID: 29955040

Identifying Human Naïve Pluripotent Stem Cells - Evaluating State-Specific Reporter Lines and Cell-Surface Markers.
Collier AJ, Rugg-Gunn PJ

Recent reports that human pluripotent stem cells can be captured in a spectrum of states with variable properties has prompted a re-evaluation of how pluripotency is acquired and stabilised. The latest additions to the stem cell hierarchy open up opportunities for understanding human development, reprogramming, and cell state transitions more generally. Many of the new cell lines have been collectively termed 'naïve' human pluripotent stem cells to distinguish them from the conventional 'primed' cells. Here, several transcriptional and epigenetic hallmarks of human pluripotent states in the recently described cell lines are reviewed and evaluated. Methods to derive and identify human naïve pluripotent stem cells are also discussed, with a focus on the uses and future developments of state-specific reporter cell lines and cell-surface proteins. Finally, opportunities and uncertainties in naïve stem cell biology are highlighted, and the current limitations of human naïve pluripotent stem cells considered, particularly in the context of differentiation.

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BioEssays : news and reviews in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, , 1521-1878, e1700239, 2018

PMID: 29574793

Group Members

Latest Publications

Genome-Scale Oscillations in DNA Methylation during Exit from Pluripotency.

Rulands S, Lee HJ, Clark SJ

Cell systems
2405-4712: (2018)

PMID: 30031774

Promoter interactome of human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes connects GWAS regions to cardiac gene networks.

Choy MK, Javierre BM, Williams SG

Nature communications
9 2041-1723:2526 (2018)

PMID: 29955040

Identifying Human Naïve Pluripotent Stem Cells - Evaluating State-Specific Reporter Lines and Cell-Surface Markers.

Collier AJ, Rugg-Gunn PJ

BioEssays : news and reviews in molecular, cellular and developmental biology
1521-1878:e1700239 (2018)

PMID: 29574793

Global reorganisation of cis-regulatory units upon lineage commitment of human embryonic stem cells.

Freire-Pritchett P, Schoenfelder S, Várnai C

eLife
6 2050-084X: (2017)

PMID: 28332981

Derivation and Culture of Epiblast Stem Cell (EpiSC) Lines.

Rugg-Gunn P

Cold Spring Harbor protocols
2017 1559-6095:pdb.prot093971 (2017)

PMID: 28049783