Epigenetic analyses of planarian stem cells demonstrate conservation of bivalent histone modifications in animal stem cells.
Dattani A., Kao D., Mihaylova Y., Abnave P., Hughes S., Lai A., Sahu S., Aboobaker A.
Planarian flatworms have an indefinite capacity to regenerate missing or damaged body parts owing to a population of pluripotent adult stems cells called neoblasts (NBs). Currently, little is known about the importance of the epigenetic status of NBs and how histone modifications regulate homeostasis and cellular differentiation. We have developed an improved and optimized ChIP-seq protocol for NBs in Schmidtea mediterranea and have generated genome-wide profiles for the active marks H3K4me3 and H3K36me3, and suppressive marks H3K4me1 and H3K27me3. The genome-wide profiles of these marks were found to correlate well with NB gene expression profiles. We found that genes with little transcriptional activity in the NB compartment but which switch on in post-mitotic progeny during differentiation are bivalent, being marked by both H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 at promoter regions. In further support of this hypothesis bivalent genes also have a high level of paused RNA Polymerase II at the promoter-proximal region. Overall, this study confirms that epigenetic control is important for the maintenance of a NB transcriptional program and makes a case for bivalent promoters as a conserved feature of animal stem cells and not a vertebrate specific innovation. By establishing a robust ChIP-seq protocol and analysis methodology, we further promote planarians as a promising model system to investigate histone modification mediated regulation of stem cell function and differentiation.