Wolf Reik

Research Summary

Our lab is interested in epigenetic gene regulation in mammalian development and in ageing. Global epigenetic reprogramming occurs at fertilisation and fundamentally remodels the epigenomes of sperm and egg. We are working to understand the mechanisms of reprogramming and also how it may be linked with zygotic genome activation, the sudden transcriptional springing to life of the genome in the early embryo.

Soon after implantation of the embryo in the maternal uterus there is a major programme of cell fate decisions which establishes the three primary germ layers, the ectoderm (which gives rise to brain and skin), the mesoderm (giving rise to muscle and heart), and the endoderm (which gives rise to the gut amongst other tissues).

These three lineages are the foundations of all organs in the adult body and we are interested in the transcriptional and epigenetic events that underlie their emergence from the undifferentiated epiblast. Finally, we are studying how the epigenome degrades during ageing potentially in a programmed fashion, and whether there are approaches by which this degradation can be slowed down or reversed.

Latest Publications

Enhancer-associated H3K4 methylation safeguards in vitro germline competence.
Bleckwehl T, Crispatzu G, Schaaf K, Respuela P, Bartusel M, Benson L, Clark SJ, Dorighi KM, Barral A, Laugsch M, van IJcken WFJ, Manzanares M, Wysocka J, Reik W, Rada-Iglesias Á

Germline specification in mammals occurs through an inductive process whereby competent cells in the post-implantation epiblast differentiate into primordial germ cells (PGC). The intrinsic factors that endow epiblast cells with the competence to respond to germline inductive signals remain unknown. Single-cell RNA sequencing across multiple stages of an in vitro PGC-like cells (PGCLC) differentiation system shows that PGCLC genes initially expressed in the naïve pluripotent stage become homogeneously dismantled in germline competent epiblast like-cells (EpiLC). In contrast, the decommissioning of enhancers associated with these germline genes is incomplete. Namely, a subset of these enhancers partly retain H3K4me1, accumulate less heterochromatic marks and remain accessible and responsive to transcriptional activators. Subsequently, as in vitro germline competence is lost, these enhancers get further decommissioned and lose their responsiveness to transcriptional activators. Importantly, using H3K4me1-deficient cells, we show that the loss of this histone modification reduces the germline competence of EpiLC and decreases PGCLC differentiation efficiency. Our work suggests that, although H3K4me1 might not be essential for enhancer function, it can facilitate the (re)activation of enhancers and the establishment of gene expression programs during specific developmental transitions.

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Nature communications, 12, 1, 01 Oct 2021

PMID: 34599190

Integration of spatial and single-cell transcriptomic data elucidates mouse organogenesis.
Lohoff T, Ghazanfar S, Missarova A, Koulena N, Pierson N, Griffiths JA, Bardot ES, Eng CL, Tyser RCV, Argelaguet R, Guibentif C, Srinivas S, Briscoe J, Simons BD, Hadjantonakis AK, Göttgens B, Reik W, Nichols J, Cai L, Marioni JC

Molecular profiling of single cells has advanced our knowledge of the molecular basis of development. However, current approaches mostly rely on dissociating cells from tissues, thereby losing the crucial spatial context of regulatory processes. Here, we apply an image-based single-cell transcriptomics method, sequential fluorescence in situ hybridization (seqFISH), to detect mRNAs for 387 target genes in tissue sections of mouse embryos at the 8-12 somite stage. By integrating spatial context and multiplexed transcriptional measurements with two single-cell transcriptome atlases, we characterize cell types across the embryo and demonstrate that spatially resolved expression of genes not profiled by seqFISH can be imputed. We use this high-resolution spatial map to characterize fundamental steps in the patterning of the midbrain-hindbrain boundary (MHB) and the developing gut tube. We uncover axes of cell differentiation that are not apparent from single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) data, such as early dorsal-ventral separation of esophageal and tracheal progenitor populations in the gut tube. Our method provides an approach for studying cell fate decisions in complex tissues and development.

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Nature biotechnology, 1, 1, 06 Sep 2021

PMID: 34489600

Pooled CRISPR-activation screening coupled with single-cell RNA-seq in mouse embryonic stem cells.
Alda-Catalinas C, Eckersley-Maslin MA, Reik W

CRISPR/Cas9 screens are a powerful approach to identify key regulators of biological processes. By combining pooled CRISPR/Cas9 screening with single-cell RNA-sequencing readout, individual perturbations can be assessed in parallel both comprehensively and at scale. Importantly, this allows gene function and regulation to be interrogated at a cellular level in an unbiased manner. Here, we present a protocol to perform pooled CRISPR-activation screens in mouse embryonic stem cells using 10× Genomics scRNA-seq as a readout. For complete information on the generation and use of this protocol, please refer to Alda-Catalinas et al. (2020).

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STAR protocols, 2, 2, 18 Jun 2021

PMID: 33899013

Open Access