Boost for epigenetic research at Helmholtz Zentrum München

The DFG funds the SFB 1064 collaborative research center (CRC) ‘Chromatin Dynamics’ for four more years. LMU, TUM, MPI and the HMGU join forces for continued discoveries on the dynamics of the chromatin structure and function across physiological states. 7 epigenetics@HMGU research teams receive 2.9 million Euros.

The dynamic nature of chromatin is essential for genome integrity and is required for development, environmental adaptation and metabolic (stress) memory. Dysregulation of chromatin can lead to harmful pathological outcomes such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or environmentally triggered disorders, such as diabetes. Thus, identifying chromatin patterns and their role in the integration of environmental inputs will be a key pillar supporting the mission of Helmholtz Zentrum München to discover solutions for the prevention and therapy of environmentally triggered diseases.

Since 2013, this collaborative research center (CRC) has united the outstanding research expertise in epigenetics of the four Munich based partners. During the new third phase (from 2021 until 2025) the CRC ‘Chromatin Dynamics’ aims to deliver a comprehensive understanding of the epigenetic processes and chromatin marks underlying the chromatin landscape using different model organisms. The new projects funded include three projects from the Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells, three from the Institute of Functional Epigenetics, as well as one from the group ‘Metabolic Reprogramming’ of Henriette Uhlenhaut. 

The Helmholtz projects reflect the topic diversity of the CRC 1064. The projects of Till Bartke and Stephan Hamperl focus on the role of chromatin during replication initiation. While Till Bartke will decipher whether different modification states of the chromatin regulator LRWD1 can explain its importance for regulating DNA replication as well as chromatin silencing, the project of Stephan Hamperl will identify the factors that make chromatin permissive for initiating DNA replication at specific sites.

Maria Elena Torres-Padilla, Director of the Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells, uses the early mouse embryo as model to study the epigenetic processes underlying the establishment of totipotency, the capacity of a cell to give rise to a complete, new organism. In particular, the acquisition of totipotency requires massive epigenetic reprogramming and the CRC project aims to identify the main processes and actors required for de novo heterochromatin establishment during this process.

Epigenetic mechanisms take care that cells ‘remember’ their fate and prevent unwanted cell type changes during normal development. To shed light into the safe-guarding mechanisms of this cell-fate-memory, Eva Hörmanseder (Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells) will use a technique that can erase the memory of a somatic cell and allows cellular reprogramming to totipotency and study the epigenetic mechanisms that empower the cell to resist cell fate reprogramming.

A novel research direction of the CRC is to study the link between chromatin organization and metabolism. Even though it is known that chromatin modifications rely on compounds that derive from metabolic pathways in the cell, there is still very little understanding how perturbations of the metabolism e.g., through lack of nutrients, affect the genome-wide chromatin organization. Two projects carried out at the Institute of Functional Epigenetics will address these conundrums. Daphne Cabianca will use the nematode C. elegans to study how starvation can impact tissue-specific chromatin regulation and the consequences on organismal health caused by metabolic stress. To unravel the mechanisms involved in the cross-talk between metabolism and chromatin, the project of Robert Schneider, Director of the Institute of Functional Epigenetics, focuses on how the metabolic enzymes that produce co-factors for certain chromatin modifications can impact chromatin function and how chromatin modifying proteins respond to metabolic challenges. 

Within the CRC 1064 ‘Chromatin Dynamics’, the researchers establish new synergies from several joint activities, including collaborative projects, mentorship across the different research groups, monthly seminars and regular international meetings, as well as the integrated research training group PhD students. This will contribute to foster a fruitful cross-institutional research environment on epigenetics in Munich, with Helmholtz Zentrum München as one of its prominent partners.

For more information to the CRC1064 'Chromatin Dynamics', please go here.