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Theses Doctoral

Cytoskeletal Regulation of Centromere Maintenance and Function in the Mammalian Cell Cycle

Liu, Chenshu

Equal partitioning of genetic materials of the chromosomes is key to the mitotic cell cycle, as unequal segregation of chromosomes during mitosis leads to aneuploidy, a hall mark of human cancer. Accurate chromosome segregation is directed by the kinetochore, a proteinaceous structure on each sister chromosome that physically connects the chromosome to the spindle microtubules. Kinetochore assembles at the centromere, a specialized chromosome region epigenetically defined by the histone H3 variant centromere protein A (CENP-A) in higher eukaryotes including mammals. In order to maintain centromere identity against CENP-A dilution caused by S phase genome replication, new CENP-A molecules are loaded at preexisting centromeres in G1 phase of the cell cycle. Despite of the several important stages and molecular components identified in CENP-A replenishment, little is known about how new CENP-A proteins become stably incorporated into centromeric nucleosomes. Here by using quantitative imaging, pulse-chase labeling, mutant analysis, cellular fractionation and computational simulations, I have identified the cytoskeleton protein diaphanous formin mDia2 to be essential for the essential for the stable incorporation of newly synthesized CENP-A at the centromere. The novel function of mDia2 depends on its nuclear localization and its actin nucleation activity. Furthermore, mDia2 functions downstream of a small GTPase molecular switch during CENP-A loading, and is responsible for the formation of dynamic and short actin filaments observed in early G1 nuclei. Importantly, the maintenance of centromeric CENP-A levels requires a pool of polymerizable actin inside the nucleus. Single particle tracking and quantitative analysis revealed that centromere movement in early G1 nuclei is relatively confined over the time scale of initial CENP-A loading, and the subdiffusive behavior was significantly altered upon mDia2 knockdown. Finally, knocking down mDia2 results in prolonged centromere association of Holliday junction recognition protein (HJURP), a chaperone required to undergo timely turnover to allow for new CENP-A loading at the centromere. Our findings suggest that diaphanous formin mDia2 forms a link between the upstream small GTPase signaling and the downstream confined viscoelastic nuclear environment, and therefore regulates the stable assembly of new CENP-A containing nucleosomes to mark centromeres’ epigenetic identity (Chapter 2 and 3).
While centromere identity is essential for kinetochore assembly, once kinetochores are assembled, fine-tuned interactions between kinetochores and microtubules become important for a fully functioning mitotic spindle during chromosome segregation. It has been previously found that another diaphanous formin protein mDia3 and its interaction with EB1, a microtubule plus-end tracking protein, are essential for accurate chromosome segregation1. In Chapter 4 of this thesis, I found that knocking down mDia3 caused a compositional change at the microtubule plus-end attached to the kinetochores, marked by a loss of EB1 and a gain of CLIP-170 and the dynein light chain protein Tctex-1. Interestingly, this compositional change does not affect the release of cytoplasmic dynein from aligned kinetochores, suggesting a population of Tctex-1 can be recruited to the kinetochores without dynein. During mitosis, Tctex-1 associates with unattached kinetochores and is required for accurate chromosome segregation. Tctex-1 knockdown in cells does not affect the localization and function of dynein at the kinetochore, but produces a prolonged mitotic arrest with a few misaligned chromosomes, which are subsequently missegregated during anaphase. This function is independent of Tctex-1’s association with dynein. The kinetochore localization of Tctex-1 is independent of the ZW10-dynein pathway, but requires the Ndc80 complex. Thus, our findings reveal a dynein independent role of Tctex-1 at the kinetochore to enhance the stability of kinetochore-microtubule attachment.
Together, these work suggest novel regulatory roles of the cytoskeletal systems in the maintenance as well as subsequent functions of the centromere/kinetochore, and provide mechanistic insights into the complex control principles of accurate chromosome segregation. Our findings provide a new model in understanding the epigenetic maintenance of genome integrity, and will have implications with regard to how aberrant cell divisions underlying aneuploidy can be targeted in the treatment of cancer.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Mao, Yinghui
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 14, 2016