Rhythmic and clock-dependent chromatin loops regulate circadian gene expression

In mammals the circadian clock drives daily behavioural and physiological changes that resonate with environmental cues, which can be observed, for example, in the intricate timing of rest during the night and activity during the day in humans. The circadian clock consists of a network of hierarchical clocks in which the central pacemaker is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is sensitive to external light and propagates time to the peripheral organ-based clocks. Within organs, clocks tick in each individual cell and are molecularly encoded in the genome as a network of dynamic feedback loops. By mediating the expression of the appropriate gene products at the correct moment of the day, the molecular clocks op-timize physiological functions of virtually every cell in our body, allowing us to synchronize with daily fluc-tuations in the environment. In mammalian cells the chromatin organization in the nucleus consists of a topological network, in which chromatin interactions between distal regulatory elements such as enhancers and target genes are essen-tial to regulate gene expression. Important questions remain: is the complex chromatin folding dynamic and if so on which genomic and temporal scales? In fact, dynamic rearrangements of the chromatin have been reported on multiple genomic and time scales, from the entire genome to enhancer-promoter con-tacts, across developmental transitions, cellular differentiation, and transcription cycles. With this per-spective in mind, the circadian oscillator provides a unique model to study the dynamics of genomic inter-actions in the context of fluctuating transcription. Here, we explored chromatin contacts of core-clock and clock-controlled gene promoters in the mouse. We aimed at evaluating the putative dynamics of chromatin contacts, at estimating their conservation across tissues, and at exploring the contribution of the circadian clock to this interaction network. To achieve this goal, we performed 4C-sequencing assays at two circadian time points in the liver and kidney of WT and clock-deficient animals. Overall, we observe that chromatin contacts are largely conserved across circadian time points and genetic backgrounds, and are tissue-specific. Our experiments reveal that the promoters of core-clock and clock-controlled genes contact distal genomic regions containing en-hancer chromatin signatures, suggesting a functional role of these distal sites in target gene regulation. Our data also suggest a clock-driven module of rhythmic genes that are colocalized in the nucleus. However, we also observe dynamic contacts between oscillating gene promoter and enhancer-like ge-nomic regions. In this thesis, we discuss in detail two examples of dynamic chromatin looping that are ob-served at the Cry1 and Gys2 loci. Our data reveal not only a dynamic coupling between the chromatin loop and the transcriptional state but also that the dynamic of chromatin looping depends on a functional clock. Furthermore, genome editing experiments using CRISPR-Cas9 tools reveal that the Cry1 distal site is essential for the transcriptional regulation of Cry1 and contributes to the circadian clock robustness both in-vivo and in cultured cells. These results demonstrate how local chromatin rearrangements take place in a 24-hour time-scale and set chromatin looping between gene promoters and distal regions as a new reg-ulatory layer for circadian gene expression.


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