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Abstract

Excess fat mass in obese individuals, which is characterized by an increase of white adipocyte cell size and number, significantly raises the risk of developing metabolic syndrome symptoms as well as cancer. A detailed understanding of the transcriptional mechanisms mediating white adipocyte differentiation (i.e., adipogenesis) is required to counteract the growing obesity epidemics. In this thesis, we have implemented two combinatory approaches to detect new protein-DNA interactions in the mouse, one of which targets the adipogenic gene regulatory network (GRN) that underlies the white adipocyte differentiation process. As a first approach to shed light on GRNs, we have developed and validated a powerful approach that combines a high-throughput yeast one-hybrid-based (Y1H) system to detect transcription factors (TFs)-DNA element interactions, together with a novel microfluidics-based technique, enabling the identification and characterization of individual binding sites for detected TFs within the respective regulatory sequences at unprecedented throughput and resolution. Using well-described regulatory elements as well as an uncharacterized enhancer which can play also a role in adipogenesis, we show that our approach in a first phase uncovers many known as well as novel TF-DNA interactions, of which a large proportion were independently validated. In addition, we further demonstrate how our approach can be used in a second phase to characterize detected interactions by enabling the generation of a relative DNA occupancy landscape over the length of the respective DNA element. Furthermore, we provide evidence that this system enables the detection of novel interactions that may have in vivo relevance. Given the strict requirements for direct and well-characterized protein-DNA interaction data to generate and model gene regulatory networks, the presented two-tiered approach should be of great value to enhance our understanding of the regulatory principles underlying mouse gene expression. To identify transcription factors involved in white adipocyte differentiation, we overexpressed TFs in preadipocytes and quantified their effect on differentiation. To this end, we have created a mouse open-reading frame resource consisting of more than 750 fully sequence-verified TF clones. We transferred these TF clones to a Tet-On lentiviral vector and used them to infect white preadipocytes. Based on microscopy-assisted quantification of lipids after induction of differentiation, we identified putatively novel TF candidates that strongly enhanced differentiation based on the increased lipid accumulation, indicating a potential role in adipogenesis. Gene expression and ChIP-seq experiments have been performed for the three top candidates (ZEB1, ZFP30 and ZFP277) to further study their function within the adipogenic regulatory network. To assess whether the effect of these TFs on adipogenesis could be reproduced in vivo, murine adipose stromal-vascular fraction containing adipocyte precursor cells were implanted into mice fed a high-fat diet, after each of the three TF candidates were knockdown or overexpressed in these cells. This experiment and the RNA-seq analyses are currently being processed while this thesis is being written. Furthermore, due to the absence of quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) primer designing tools that would allow for gene-specific expression profiling in a high-throughput fashion, we design a user-friendly platform: GETPrime. This platform uniquely combines and automates several features critical to optimal qPCR primer design for all annotated Homo sapiens, Mus musculus, Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila melanogaster and Danio rerio genes in the Ensembl database. GETPrime primers have been extensively validated experimentally, demonstrating their high quality as well as high transcript specificity in complex samples.

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