Mechanisms of Genome Buffering and Cell Fate Coordination in Adult Tissue Homeostasis




Tuladhar, Rubina

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Self-renewal competency of adult stem cells is essential for tissue homeostasis. The corruption of genes essential for genome preservation or for niche-stem cell interactions frequently results in loss of stem cell viability and disease. The two components of my thesis focus on understanding adult stem cell preservation - the integration of metabolism and intercellular communication mediated by the Wnt family of secreted signaling molecules, and epigenetic mechanisms that buffer the proteome against insertion/deletion (INDEL)-type genetic mutations. Wnt-mediated signaling is essential for embryogenesis and the maintenance of adult tissues. Lipidation of Wnt proteins by the acyltransferase Porcupine (Porcn) is crucial for secretory pathway exiting. Using chemically based approaches, I have demonstrated that Porcn active site features conserved across animals enforce ω-7 cis fatty acylation of Wnt proteins. Deviant acylation of a Wnt protein using an exogenously supplied trans fatty acid cripples its ability to traverse the secretory pathway due to a previously unappreciated stereoselectivity of the Wnt chaperone Wntless (WLS) for fatty acids. My findings provide a mechanistic account of chemical specificity observed in Porcn inhibitors, and delineate a universal mechanism for integrating communal cell fate decision-making with metabolic fitness. As part of my efforts to generate isogenic cells for the expression of LKB1, a tumor suppressor that regulates Wnt protein production, I encountered the emergence of foreign LKB1 proteins subsequent to the introduction of INDELs by the DNA editing enzyme CRISPR-Cas9. I demonstrate that these novel proteins are the products of: a) the installation of internal ribosomal entry sites (IRES), b) the induction of exon skipping due to compromised exon splicing enhancers (ESEs), and c) the conversion of pseudo-mRNAs to protein-coding mRNAs due to the unwanted elimination of premature termination codons. I propose that these molecular events serve as compensatory mechanisms employed by cells to restore proteome integrity in the face of INDEL-type challenges to the genome posed by pathogens and environmental mutagens. Taken together, these two projects will: a) delineate intervention strategies premised upon the attack of an universally conserved point of intersection between metabolism and cell-to-cell communication, b) facilitate the personalization of medicine, and c) accelerate tissue engineering initiatives.

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