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Title: Characterisation of the non-canonical zinc finger protein ZFP263 in mouse
Author: Delahaye, Celia
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 5001
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Multicellular organisms are composed of a number of different specialised cells that all carry the same genetic material but are highly divergent in their functions and characteristics. This diversity is only allowed because sets of specific genes are expressed in one type of cells and silent in others. A precise control mechanism is required to fine-tune gene regulation and relies on chromatin structure and regulatory proteins. One of the largest families of DNA-binding factors that influence this in human and mouse is the KRAB zinc finger protein (KZFP) family. KZFPs are thought to have rapidly evolved alongside transposable elements and be mediators of transcriptional repression. The few KZFPs that have been characterised so far have been shown to be involved in a wide range of regulatory and biological processes; hence it is hard to make functional generalisations. During my PhD, I studied one member of the KZFP family in mouse, ZFP263, with the aim of understanding its mechanism of action in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) and its role in mice. My work has shown that ZFP263 is an ancient protein highly conserved in mammals and under purifying selection. One of its two functional domains however is divergent from the consensus sequence found in most KZFPs and suggests that ZFP263 might have lost the ability to recruit repressive chromatin states. My research identified the targets of ZFP263 binding in mESCs and showed that it does not bind and silence transposable elements. Indeed it targets unique regions of the genome, mostly within transcribed regions of genes. These genes show a wide range of expression levels and are involved in several key biological processes. Surprisingly, binding sites are not associated with the canonical KZFP co-factor but mostly co-localize with active histone marks. My findings lead me to hypothesise that ZFP263 has evolved to target active epigenetic states to unique regions that are positive regulators of transcription, in contrast to the more canonical model of KZFP function. To test this hypothesis, I have generated targeted mutations at Zfp263 in mice using CRISPR-Cas9 and my preliminary results suggest that Zfp263 mutants have growth defects indicating a role for this protein in mouse development. My findings indicate that ZFP263 is a unique KZFP with non-canonical properties and provide novel insights into the evolution and functions of KZFPs in mammals.
Supervisor: Ferguson-Smith, Anne Sponsor: European Commission
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Epigenetics ; Transcription Factor ; Zinc finger protein