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Theses Doctoral

Zc3h13: A Master Regulator of Epitranscriptomic Landscape during Early Development

Chirathivat, Napon

Mouse epiblast stem cells (EpiSC) are pluripotent cells derived of the epiblast of post-implantation blastocysts that can self-renew indefinitely in culture, display lineage-restricted differentiation, and appear to closely resemble human embryonic stem cells (ESC). Despite significant advances in the last decade, the precise molecular mechanisms and many master regulator (MR) genes underlying stem cell self-renewal, pluripotency, interactions with surrounding cells, and lineage-specific differentiation still remain elusive. The goal of this thesis is to address these gaps of knowledge using a systematic approach to identify novel MR genes and functionally validate them using genetically modified mouse models.In order to elucidate MR genes that control understudied biological processes, previous work in the Shen lab have computationally reconstructed the regulatory network of EpiSC and interrogated the EpiSC interactome with pluripotency signatures of EpiSC lines. One MR gene of interest from the previous analysis is ZC3H13, which encodes a protein that has been previously shown to be a crucial for N6-methyladenosine modification in RNA (m⁶A). This suggests a novel connection between m⁶A epitranscriptional modifications and primed state pluripotency.

In my thesis research, I have shown that Zc3h13 is essential for proper trophoblast lineage differentiation and the importance of m6A modifications in early embryonic development. Using two Zc3h13 knockout mouse lines, I have found that Zc3h13 null embryos are embryonic lethal at the peri-implantation stage due to a failure to implant into the uterus. In vitro outgrowth analysis revealed a lack of trophoblast giant cells in Zc3h13 null outgrowths, and the lack of enlarged nuclei in the Zc3h13 null outgrowth suggests a failure in endoreduplication. Immunofluorescence analysis of Zc3h13 null blastocysts showed that the trophectoderm cells of Zc3h13 null blastocyst expressed trophectoderm specific factors at abnormal levels, indicating a severe dysregulation of the trophectoderm regulatory network.

To elucidate the effects of Zc3h13 knockout on pluripotency, I also performed a detailed immunofluorescence analysis of Zc3h13 null inner cell mass (ICM), which expressed pluripotency factors at normal levels. However, Zc3h13 null blastocysts were less efficient at generating ESC lines and the Zc3h13 KO ESC generated were morphologically abnormal. Dot blot and mass spectrometry analysis showed that Zc3h13 KO ESC had a dramatically lower level of m⁶A modification, suggesting a connection between m6A epitranscriptional modification and endoreduplication. Interestingly, chimera and teratoma analysis showed that while Zc3h13 KO ESC can contribute to derivatives of the three primary lineages, Zc3h13 KO ESC has a bias towards neuroectoderm differentiation.

In this thesis, I have shown the importance of m6A transcriptional regulation in trophoblast giant cell differentiation. Taken together, my studies can help further the understanding of the biological functions of m⁶A modifications as well as the relationship between transcriptional regulation and cell fate transition. My work highlights another level of gene regulation through epitranscriptional modification and the importance of the epitranscriptomic landscape in cell fate transition and development.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biological Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Shen, Michael M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 29, 2021