Lozano-Ureña A, Lázaro-Carot L, Jiménez-Villalba E, Montalbán-Loro R, Mateos-White I, Martínez-Gurrea I, Duart-Abadia P, Nakayama KI, Fariñas I, Kirstein M, Gil-Sanz C, Ferrón SR (2023). Igf2 interacts with the imprinted gene Cdkn1c to promote terminal differentiation of neural stem cells. Development. 150(1):dev200563. doi: 10.1242/dev.200563

Adult neurogenesis is supported by multipotent neural stem cells (NSCs) with unique properties and growth requirements. Adult NSCs constitute a reversibly quiescent cell population that can be activated by extracellular signals from the microenvironment or niche in which they reside in vivo. Although genomic imprinting plays a role in adult neurogenesis through dosage regulation of some relevant signals, the implication of many imprinted genes and their adult dosage in the process remain elusive. Insulin-like growth factor 2 is encoded by an imprinted gene (Igf2) that contributes to NSCs maintenance in the adult subventricular zone (SVZ) through a biallelic expression only in the vascular compartment. We show here that IGF2 additionally promotes cell cycle exit and terminal differentiation of NSCs into astrocytes, neurons and oligodendrocytes by inducing the expression of the maternally expressed gene cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1c (Cdkn1c), which encodes for the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p57. Using intraventricular infusion of recombinant IGF2 in a conditional mutant strain with Cdkn1c-deficient neural progenitors, we confirm that p57 partially mediates the differentiation effects of IGF2 in subventricular NSCs and this occurs independently of its role in cell-cycle progression, balancing the decision between astrogliogenesis, neurogenesis and oligodendrogenesis.

Lozano-Ureña A, Jiménez-Villalba E , Pinedo-Serrano A , Jordán-Pla A, Kirstein M, Ferrón SR (2021). Aberrations of genomic imprinting in glioblastoma formation. Frontiers in Oncology. 11:630482. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.630482

In human glioblastoma (GBM), the presence of a small population of cells with stem cell characteristics, the glioma stem cells (GSCs), has been described. These cells have GBM potential and are responsible for the origin of the tumors. However, whether GSCs originate from normal neural stem cells (NSCs) as a consequence of genetic and epigenetic changes and/or dedifferentiation from somatic cells remains to be investigated. Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic marking process that causes genes to be expressed depending on their parental origin. The dysregulation of the imprinting pattern or the loss of genomic imprinting (LOI) have been described in different tumors including GBM, being one of the earliest and most common events that occurs in human cancers. Here we have gathered the current knowledge of the role of imprinted genes in normal NSCs function and how the imprinting process is altered in human GBM. We also review the changes at particular imprinted loci that might be involved in the development of the tumor. Understanding the mechanistic similarities in the regulation of genomic imprinting between normal NSCs and GBM cells will be helpful to identify molecular players that might be involved in the development of human GBM.

Montalbán-Loro R, Lassi G, Lozano-Ureña A, Perez-Villalba A, Jiménez-Villalba E, Charalambous M, Vallortigara G, Horner A, Saksida LM, Bussey TJ, Trejo JL, Tucci V, Ferguson-Smith AC, Ferrón SR (2021). Dlk1 dosage regulates hippocampal neurogenesis and cognition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 118(11):e2015505118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2015505118

Neurogenesis in the adult brain gives rise to functional neurons, which integrate into neuronal circuits and modulate neural plasticity. Sustained neurogenesis throughout life occurs in the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus and is hypothesized to be involved in behavioral/cognitive processes such as memory and in diseases. Genomic imprinting is of critical importance to brain development and normal behavior, and exemplifies how epigenetic states regulate genome function and gene dosage. While most genes are expressed from both alleles, imprinted genes are usually expressed from either the maternally or the paternally inherited chromosome. Here, we show that in contrast to its canonical imprinting in nonneurogenic regions, Delta-like homolog 1 (Dlk1) is expressed biallelically in the SGZ, and both parental alleles are required for stem cell behavior and normal adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus. To evaluate the effects of maternally, paternally and biallelically inherited mutations within the Dlk1 gene in specific behavioral domains, we subjected Dlk1-mutant mice to a battery of tests that dissociate and evaluate the effects of Dlk1 dosage on spatial learning ability and on anxiety traits. Importantly, reduction in Dlk1 levels triggers specific cognitive abnormalities that affect aspects of discriminating differences in environmental stimuli, emphasizing the importance of selective absence of imprinting in this neurogenic niche.

Belenguer G, Duart-Abadia P, Jordán-Pla A, Domingo-Muelas A, Blasco-Chamarro L, Ferrón SR, Morante-Redolat JM, Fariñas I (2021). Adult neural stem cells are alerted by systemic inflammation through TNF-α receptor signaling. Cell Stem Cell. 28(2):285-299. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2020.10.016

Adult stem cells (SCs) transit between the cell cycle and a poorly defined quiescent state. Single neural SCs (NSCs) with quiescent, primed-for-activation, and activated cell transcriptomes have been obtained from the subependymal zone (SEZ), but the functional regulation of these states under homeostasis is not understood. Here, we develop a multilevel strategy to analyze these NSC states with the aim to uncover signals that regulate their level of quiescence/activation. We show that transitions between states occur in vivo and that activated and primed, but not quiescent, states can be captured and studied in culture. We also show that peripherally induced inflammation promotes a transient activation of primed NSCs (pNSCs) mediated by tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) acting through its receptor, TNF receptor 2 (TNFR2), and a return to quiescence in a TNF receptor 1 (TNFR1)-dependent manner. Our data identify a signaling pathway promoting NSC alertness and add to the emerging concept that SCs can respond to the systemic milieu.

McGreevy KR, Tezanos P, Ferreiro-Villar I, Pallé A, Moreno-Serrano M, Esteve-Codina A, Lamas-Toranzo I, Bermejo-Álvarez P, Fernández-Punzano J, Martín-Montalvo A, Montalbán R, Ferrón SR, Radford EJ, Fontán-Lozano Á, Trejo JL (2019). Intergenerational transmission of the positive effects of physical exercise on brain and cognition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 116(20):10103-10112. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1816781116

Physical exercise has positive effects on cognition, but very little is known about the inheritance of these effects to sedentary offspring and the mechanisms involved. Here, we use a patrilineal design in mice to test the transmission of effects from the same father (before or after training) and from different fathers to compare sedentary- and runner-father progenies. Behavioral, stereological, and whole-genome sequence analyses reveal that paternal cognition improvement is inherited by the offspring, along with increased adult neurogenesis, greater mitochondrial citrate synthase activity, and modulation of the adult hippocampal gene expression profile. These results demonstrate the inheritance of exercise-induced cognition enhancement through the germline, pointing to paternal physical activity as a direct factor driving offspring’s brain physiology and cognitive behavior.

Montalbán-Loro R, Lozano-Ureña A, Ito M, Krueger C, Reik W, Ferguson-Smith AC, Ferrón SR (2019). TET3 prevents terminal differentiation of adult NSCs by a noncatalytic action at Snrpn. Nature Communications. 10(1):1726. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-09665-1

Selected for Editors Highlights page in research area «From Brain to Behaviour».

Ten-eleven-translocation (TET) proteins catalyze DNA hydroxylation, playing an important role in demethylation of DNA in mammals. Remarkably, although hydroxymethylation levels are high in the mouse brain, the potential role of TET proteins in adult neurogenesis is unknown. We show here that a non-catalytic action of TET3 is essentially required for the maintenance of the neural stem cell (NSC) pool in the adult subventricular zone (SVZ) niche by preventing premature differentiation of NSCs into non-neurogenic astrocytes. This occurs through direct binding of TET3 to the paternal transcribed allele of the imprinted gene Small nuclear ribonucleoprotein-associated polypeptide N (Snrpn), contributing to transcriptional repression of the gene. The study also identifies BMP2 as an effector of the astrocytic terminal differentiation mediated by SNRPN. Our work describes a novel mechanism of control of an imprinted gene in the regulation of adult neurogenesis through an unconventional role of TET3.

Lozano-Ureña A, Ferrón SR (2019). Beyond protein-coding genes. eLife. 8:e45123. doi: 10.7554/eLife.45123

Lozano-Ureña A, Montalbán-Loro R, Ferguson-Smith AC, Ferrón SR (2017). Genomic imprinting and the regulation of postnatal neurogenesis. Brain Plasticity. 3(1):89-98. doi: 10.3233/BPL-160041

Most genes required for mammalian development are expressed from both maternally and paternally inherited chromosomal homologues. However, there are a small number of genes known as «imprinted genes» that only express a single allele from one parent, which is repressed on the gene from the other parent. Imprinted genes are dependent on epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation and post-translational modifications of the DNA-associated histone proteins to establish and maintain their parental identity. In the brain, multiple transcripts have been identified which show parental origin-specific expression biases. However, the mechanistic relationship with canonical imprinting is unknown. Recent studies on the postnatal neurogenic niches raise many intriguing questions concerning the role of genomic imprinting and gene dosage during postnatal neurogenesis, including how imprinted genes operate in concert with signalling cues to contribute to newborn neurons’ formation during adulthood. Here we have gathered the current knowledge on the imprinting process in the neurogenic niches. We also review the phenotypes associated with genetic mutations at particular imprinted loci in order to consider the impact of imprinted genes in the maintenance and/or differentiation of the neural stem cell pool in vivo and during brain tumour formation.

Soares ML, Edwards CA, Dearden FL, Ferrón SR, Curran S, Corish JA, Rancourt RC, Allen SE, Charalambous M, Ferguson-Smith MA, Rens W, Adams DJ, Ferguson-Smith AC (2018). Targeted deletion of a 170kb cluster of LINE1 repeats: implications for regional control. Genome Research. 28(3):345-356. doi: 10.1101/gr.221366.117

Approximately half the mammalian genome is composed of repetitive sequences, and accumulating evidence suggests that some may have an impact on genome function. Here, we characterized a large array class of repeats of long-interspersed elements (LINE-1). Although widely distributed in mammals, locations of such arrays are species specific. Using targeted deletion, we asked whether a 170-kb LINE-1 array located at a mouse imprinted domain might function as a modulator of local transcriptional control. The LINE-1 array is lamina associated in differentiated ES cells consistent with its AT-richness, and although imprinting occurs both proximally and distally to the array, active LINE-1 transcripts within the tract are biallelically expressed. Upon deletion of the array, no perturbation of imprinting was observed, and abnormal phenotypes were not detected in maternal or paternal heterozygous or homozygous mutant mice. The array does not shield nonimprinted genes in the vicinity from local imprinting control. Reduced neural expression of protein-coding genes observed upon paternal transmission of the deletion is likely due to the removal of a brain-specific enhancer embedded within the LINE array. Our findings suggest that presence of a 170-kb LINE-1 array reflects the tolerance of the site for repeat insertion rather than an important genomic function in normal development.

Chirivella L, Kirstein M, Ferrón SR, Domingo-Muelas A, Duruput FC, Acosta-Umanzor C, Cano-Jaimez M, Pérez-Sánchez F, Barbacid M, Ortega S, Burks DJ, Fariñas I (2017) Cyclin-dependent kinase 4 regulates adult neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation in response to insulin. Stem Cells. 35(12):2403-2416. doi: 10.1002/stem.2694

Insulin is one of the standard components used to culture primary neurospheres. Although it stimulates growth of different types of cells, the effects of insulin on adult neural stem cells (NSCs) have not been well characterized. Here, we reveal that insulin stimulates proliferation, but not survival or self-renewal, of adult NSCs. This effect is mediated by insulin receptor substrate 2 (IRS2) and subsequent activation of the protein kinase B (or Akt), leading to increased activity of the G1-phase cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (Cdk4) and cell cycle progression. Neurospheres isolated from Irs2-deficient mice are reduced in size and fail to expand in culture and this impaired proliferation is rescued by introduction of a constitutively active Cdk4 (Cdk4R24C/R24C). More interestingly, activation of the IRS2/Akt/Cdk4 signaling pathway by insulin is also necessary for the generation in vitro of neurons and oligodendrocytes from NSCs. Furthermore, the IRS2/Cdk4 pathway is also required for neuritogenesis, an aspect of neuronal maturation that has not been previously linked to regulation of the cell cycle. Differentiation of NSCs usually follows exit from the cell cycle due to increased levels of CDK-inhibitors which prevent activation of CDKs. In contrast, our data indicate that IRS2-mediated Cdk4 activity in response to a mitogen such as insulin promotes terminal differentiation of adult NSCs

Belenguer G, Domingo-Muelas A, Ferrón SR, Morante-Redolat JM, Fariñas I (2016) Isolation, culture and analysis of adult subependymal neural stem cells. Differentiation 91(4-5):28-41. doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2016.01.005

Individual cells dissected from the subependymal neurogenic niche of the adult mouse brain proliferate in medium containing basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and/or epidermal growth factor (EGF) as mitogens, to produce multipotent clonal aggregates called neurospheres. These cultures constitute a powerful tool for the study of neural stem cells (NSCs) provided that they allow the analysis of their features and potential capacity in a controlled environment that can be modulated and monitored more accurately than in vivo. Clonogenic and population analyses under mitogen addition or withdrawal allow the quantification of the self-renewing and multilineage potency of these cells and the identification of the mechanisms involved in these properties. Here, we describe a set of procedures developed and/or modified by our group including several experimental options that can be used either independently or in combination for the ex vivo assessment of cell properties of NSCs obtained from the adult subependymal niche.

Ferrón SR, Radford EJ, Domingo-Muelas A, Kleine I, Ramme A, Gray D, Sandovici I, Constancia M, Ward A, Menheniott TR, Ferguson-Smith AC (2015). Differential genomic imprinting regulates paracrine and autocrine roles of IGF2 in adult neurogenesis. Nature Communications 6:8265. doi: 10.1038/ncomms9265

Genomic imprinting is implicated in the control of gene dosage in neurogenic niches. Here we address the importance of Igf2 imprinting for murine adult neurogenesis in the subventricular zone (SVZ) and in the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the hippocampus in vivo. In the SVZ, paracrine IGF2 is a cerebrospinal fluid and endothelial-derived neurogenic factor requiring biallelic expression, with mutants having reduced activation of the stem cell pool and impaired olfactory bulb neurogenesis. In contrast, Igf2 is imprinted in the hippocampus acting as an autocrine factor expressed in neural stem cells (NSCs) solely from the paternal allele. Conditional mutagenesis of Igf2 in blood vessels confirms that endothelial-derived IGF2 contributes to NSC maintenance in SVZ but not in the SGZ, and that this is regulated by the biallelic expression of IGF2 in the vascular compartment. Our findings indicate that a regulatory decision to imprint or not is a functionally important mechanism of transcriptional dosage control in adult neurogenesis.

Montalbán-Loro R, Domingo-Muelas A, Bizy A, Ferrón SR (2015). Epigenetic regulation of stemness maintenance in the neurogenic niches. World Journal of Stem Cells. 7(4):700-10. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v7.i4.700

In the adult mouse brain, the subventricular zone lining the lateral ventricles and the subgranular zone in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus are two zones that contain neural stem cells (NSCs) with the capacity to give rise to neurons and glia during the entire life of the animal. Spatial and temporal regulation of gene expression in the NSCs population is established and maintained by the coordinated interaction between transcription factors and epigenetic regulators which control stem cell fate. Epigenetic mechanisms are heritable alterations in genome function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence itself but that modulate gene expression, acting as mediators between the environment and the genome. At the molecular level, those epigenetic mechanisms comprise chemical modifications of DNA such as methylation, hydroxymethylation and histone modifications needed for the maintenance of NSC identity. Genomic imprinting is another normal epigenetic process leading to parental-specific expression of a gene, known to be implicated in the control of gene dosage in the neurogenic niches. The generation of induced pluripotent stem cells from NSCs by expression of defined transcription factors, provide key insights into fundamental principles of stem cell biology. Epigenetic modifications can also occur during reprogramming of NSCs to pluripotency and a better understanding of this process will help to elucidate the mechanisms required for stem cell maintenance. This review takes advantage of recent studies from the epigenetic field to report knowledge regarding the mechanisms of stemness maintenance of neural stem cells in the neurogenic niches.

Charalambous M, Da Rocha ST, Radford EJ, Medina-Gomez G, Curran S, Pinnock SB, Ferrón SR, Vidal-Puig A, Ferguson-Smith AC (2015). DLK1/PREF1 regulates nutrient metabolism and protects from steatosis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 111(45):16088-93. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1406119111

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is associated with insulin resistance and obesity, as well as progressive liver dysfunction. Recent animal studies have underscored the importance of hepatic growth hormone (GH) signaling in the development of NAFLD. The imprinted Delta-like homolog 1 (Dlk1)/preadipocyte factor 1 (Pref1) gene encodes a complex protein producing both circulating and membrane-tethered isoforms whose expression dosage is functionally important because even modest elevation during embryogenesis causes lethality. DLK1 is up-regulated during embryogenesis, during suckling, and in the mother during pregnancy. We investigated the normal role for elevated DLK1 dosage by overexpressing Dlk1 from endogenous control elements. This increased DLK1 dosage caused improved glucose tolerance with no primary defect in adipose tissue expansion even under extreme metabolic stress. Rather, Dlk1 overexpression caused reduced fat stores, pituitary insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) resistance, and a defect in feedback regulation of GH. Increased circulatory GH culminated in a switch in whole body fuel metabolism and a reduction in hepatic steatosis. We propose that the function of DLK1 is to shift the metabolic mode of the organism toward peripheral lipid oxidation and away from lipid storage, thus mediating important physiological adaptations associated with early life and with implications for metabolic disease resistance.

Andreu Z, Khan MA, González-Gómez P, Negueruela S, Hortigüela R, San Emeterio J, Ferrón SR, Martínez G, Vidal A, Fariñas I, Lie DC, Mira H (2015). The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27(kip1) regulates radial stem cell quiescence and neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Stem Cells. 33(1):219-29. doi: 10.1002/stem.1832

Members of the cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK)-inhibitory protein (CIP)/kinase-inhibitory protein (KIP) family of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors regulate proliferation and cell cycle exit of mammalian cells. In the adult brain, the CIP/KIP protein p27(kip1) has been related to the regulation of intermediate progenitor cells located in neurogenic niches. Here, we uncover a novel function of p27(kip1) in the adult hippocampus as a dual regulator of stem cell quiescence and of cell-cycle exit of immature neurons. In vivo, p27(kip1) is detected in radial stem cells expressing SOX2 and in newborn neurons of the dentate gyrus. In vitro, the Cdkn1b gene encoding p27(kip1) is transcriptionally upregulated by quiescence signals such as BMP4. The nuclear accumulation of p27(kip1) protein in adult hippocampal stem cells encompasses the BMP4-induced quiescent state and its overexpression is able to block proliferation. p27(kip1) is also expressed in immature neurons upon differentiation of adult hippocampal stem cell cultures. Loss of p27(kip1) leads to an increase in proliferation and neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus, which results from both a decrease in the percentage of radial stem cells that are quiescent and a delay in cell cycle exit of immature neurons. Analysis of animals carrying a disruption in the cyclin-CDK interaction domain of p27(kip1) indicates that the CDK inhibitory function of the protein is necessary to control the activity of radial stem cells. Thus, we report that p27(kip1) acts as a central player of the molecular program that keeps adult hippocampal stem cells out of the cell cycle.

Bizy A, Ferrón SR (2015). Isolation, long-term expansion, and differentiation of murine neural stem cells. Methods in Molecular Biology. 1212:103-12. doi: 10.1007/7651_2014_91

Stem cells are capable of extensive self-renewal while preserving the ability to generate cell progeny that can differentiate into different cell types. Here, we describe some methods for the isolation of neural stem cells (NSCs) from the adult murine subependymal zone (SEZ), their extensive culturing and the assessment of their full developmental potential, particularly with respect to their differentiation capacity. The procedure includes chemically defined conditions such as absence of serum and addition of specific growth factors, in which differentiated cells die and are rapidly eliminated from the culture. In contrast, undifferentiated precursors become hypertrophic and proliferate, forming clonal spherical clusters called «neurospheres.» Experimental manipulation of NSCs identifies populations of cells with differential restriction in their self-renewal potential and introduces a great interest in defining the conditions that guide their differentiation into a variety of neuronal and glial subtypes, aspects that have important implications for their use in future clinical purposes.

Delgado AC, Ferrón SR, Vicente D, Porlan E, Perez-Villalba A, Trujillo CM, D’Ocón P, Fariñas I (2014). Endothelial NT-3 delivered by vasculature and CSF promotes quiescence of subependymal neural stem cells through nitric oxide induction. Neuron. 83(3):572-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.06.015

Interactions of adult neural stem cells (NSCs) with supportive vasculature appear critical for their maintenance and function, although the molecular details are still under investigation. Neurotrophin (NT)-3 belongs to the NT family of trophic factors, best known for their effects in promoting neuronal survival. Here we show that NT-3 produced and secreted by endothelial cells of brain and choroid plexus capillaries is required for the quiescence and long-term maintenance of NSCs in the mouse subependymal niche. Uptake of NT-3 from irrigating vasculature and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) induces the rapid phosphorylation of endothelial nitric oxide (NO) synthase present in the NSCs, leading to the production of NO, which subsequently acts as a cytostatic factor. Our results identify a novel interaction between stem cells and vasculature/CSF compartments that is mediated by an unprecedented role of a neurotrophin and indicate that stem cells can regulate their own quiescence in response to endothelium-secreted molecules.

Driskell RR, Lichtenberger BM, Hoste E, Kretzschmar K, Simons BD, Charalambous M, Ferrón SR, Herault Y, Pavlovic G, Ferguson-Smith AC, Watt FM (2013). Distinct fibroblast lineages determine dermal architecture during skin development and repair. Nature. 504(7479):277-81. doi: 10.1038/nature12783

Fibroblasts are the major mesenchymal cell type in connective tissue and deposit the collagen and elastic fibres of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Even within a single tissue, fibroblasts exhibit considerable functional diversity, but it is not known whether this reflects the existence of a differentiation hierarchy or is a response to different environmental factors. Here we show, using transplantation assays and lineage tracing in mice, that the fibroblasts of skin connective tissue arise from two distinct lineages. One forms the upper dermis, including the dermal papilla that regulates hair growth and the arrector pili muscle, which controls piloerection. The other forms the lower dermis, including the reticular fibroblasts that synthesize the bulk of the fibrillar ECM, and the preadipocytes and adipocytes of the hypodermis. The upper lineage is required for hair follicle formation. In wounded adult skin, the initial wave of dermal repair is mediated by the lower lineage and upper dermal fibroblasts are recruited only during re-epithelialization. Epidermal β-catenin activation stimulates the expansion of the upper dermal lineage, rendering wounds permissive for hair follicle formation. Our findings explain why wounding is linked to formation of ECM-rich scar tissue that lacks hair follicles. They also form a platform for discovering fibroblast lineages in other tissues and for examining fibroblast changes in ageing and disease.

Porlan E, Morante-Redolat JM, Marqués-Torrejón MÁ, Andreu-Agulló C, Carneiro C, Gómez-Ibarlucea E, Soto A, Vidal A, Ferrón SR, Fariñas I (2013). Transcriptional repression of Bmp2 by cell cycle inhibitor p21 links quiescence to neural stem cell maintenance. Nature Neuroscience. 16(11):1567-75. doi: 10.1038/nn.3545

Relative quiescence and self renewal are defining features of adult stem cells, but their potential coordination remains unclear. Subependymal neural stem cells (NSCs) lacking cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor (CKI) 1a (p21) exhibit rapid expansion that is followed by their permanent loss later in life. Here we demonstrate that transcription of the gene encoding bone morphogenetic protein 2 (Bmp2) in NSCs is under the direct negative control of p21 through actions that are independent of CDK. Loss of p21 in NSCs results in increased levels of secreted BMP2, which induce premature terminal differentiation of multipotent NSCs into mature non-neurogenic astrocytes in an autocrine and/or paracrine manner. We also show that the cell-nonautonomous p21-null phenotype is modulated by the Noggin-rich environment of the subependymal niche. The dual function that we describe here provides a physiological example of combined cell-autonomous and cell-nonautonomous functions of p21 with implications in self renewal, linking the relative quiescence of adult stem cells to their longevity and potentiality.

Porlan E, Perez-Villalba A, Delgado AC, Ferrón SR (2013). Paracrine regulation of neural stem cells in the subependymal zone. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics. 534(1-2):11-9. doi: 10.1016/

Stem cells maintain their self-renewal and multipotency capacities through a self-organizing network of transcription factors and intracellular pathways activated by extracellular signaling from the microenvironment or «niche» in which they reside in vivo. In the adult mammalian brain new neurons continue to be generated throughout life of the organisms and this lifelong process of neurogenesis is supported by a reservoir of neural stem cells in the germinal regions. The discovery of adult neurogenesis in the mammalian brain has sparked great interest in defining the conditions that guide neural stem cell (NSC) maintenance and differentiation into the great variety of neuronal and glial subtypes. Here we review current knowledge regarding the paracrine regulation provided by the components of the niche and its function, focusing on the main germinal region of the adult central nervous system (CNS), the subependymal zone (SEZ).

Charalambous M, Ferrón SR, da Rocha ST, Murray AJ, Rowland T, Ito M, Schuster-Gossler K, Hernandez A, Ferguson-Smith AC (2012). Imprinted gene dosage is critical for the transition to independent life. Cell Metabolism. 15(2):209-21. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2012.01.006

Neonatal survival in mammals is crucially dependent upon maintenance of body temperature. Neonatal body temperature is largely maintained by thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT). BAT develops perinatally in mice requiring integration of adipogenic and thermoregulatory gene pathways. We describe a regulatory mutation in the imprinted gene cluster on mouse chromosome 12 resulting in early postnatal lethality. Maternal inheritance of this mutation impairs the ability of young mice to maintain body temperature. While mechanisms of perinatal BAT development are well understood, our work highlights a second phase of BAT recruitment necessary to support small animals newly independent of the nest. We show that the imprinted delta-like homolog 1/preadipocyte factor (Dlk1/Pref1) and iodothyronine deiodinase type 3 (Dio3) functions converge on the development of brown fat at the transition to independent life. This shows that appropriate dosage control at imprinted loci can act as a critical determinant in postnatal survival during phases of physiological adaptation.

Ferrón SR, Charalambous M, Radford E, McEwen K, Wildner H, Hind E, Morante-Redolat JM, Laborda J, Guillemot F, Bauer SR, Fariñas I, Ferguson-Smith AC (2011). Postnatal loss of Dlk1 imprinting in stem cells and niche astrocytes regulates adult neurogenesis. Nature. 475 (7356):381-5. doi: 10.1038/nature10229

Paper commented in the section “News and Views” of the same issue: Oh EC, Katsanis N (2011) Imprinting in the brain. Nature. 475(7356):299-300.

The gene for the atypical NOTCH ligand delta-like homologue 1 (Dlk1) encodes membrane-bound and secreted isoforms that function in several developmental processes in vitro and in vivo. Dlk1, a member of a cluster of imprinted genes, is expressed from the paternally inherited chromosome. Here we show that mice that are deficient in Dlk1 have defects in postnatal neurogenesis in the subventricular zone: a developmental continuum that results in depletion of mature neurons in the olfactory bulb. We show that DLK1 is secreted by niche astrocytes, whereas its membrane-bound isoform is present in neural stem cells (NSCs) and is required for the inductive effect of secreted DLK1 on self-renewal. Notably, we find that there is a requirement for Dlk1 to be expressed from both maternally and paternally inherited chromosomes. Selective absence of Dlk1 imprinting in both NSCs and niche astrocytes is associated with postnatal acquisition of DNA methylation at the germ-line-derived imprinting control region. The results emphasize molecular relationships between NSCs and the niche astrocyte cells of the microenvironment, identifying a signalling system encoded by a single gene that functions coordinately in both cell types. The modulation of genomic imprinting in a stem-cell environment adds a new level of epigenetic regulation to the establishment and maintenance of the niche, raising wider questions about the adaptability, function and evolution of imprinting in specific developmental contexts.

Radford E, Ferrón SR, Ferguson-Smith AC (2011). Genomic imprinting as an adaptative model of developmental plasticity. FEBS Lett. 585(13):2059-66. doi: 10.1016/j.febslet.2011.05.063

Developmental plasticity can be defined as the ability of one genotype to produce a range of phenotypes in response to environmental conditions. Such plasticity can be manifest at the level of individual cells, an organ, or a whole organism. Imprinted genes are a group of approximately 100 genes with functionally monoallelic, parental-origin specific expression. As imprinted genes are critical for prenatal growth and metabolic axis development and function, modulation of imprinted gene dosage has been proposed to play a key role in the plastic development of the unborn foetus in response to environmental conditions. Evidence is accumulating that imprinted dosage may also be involved in controlling the plastic potential of individual cells or stem cell populations. Imprinted gene dosage can be modulated through canonical, transcription factor mediated mechanisms, or through the relaxation of imprinting itself, reactivating the normally silent allele.