A network of transcription factors governs the dynamics of NODAL/Activin transcriptional responses

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SMAD2, an effector of the NODAL/Activin signalling pathway, regulates developmental processes by sensing distinct chromatin states and interacting with different transcriptional partners. However, the network of factors that controls SMAD2 chromatin binding and shapes its transcriptional programme over time is poorly characterised. Here we combine ATAC-seq with computational footprinting to identify temporal changes in chromatin accessibility and transcription factor activity upon NODAL/Activin signalling. We show that SMAD2 binding induces chromatin opening genome wide. We discover footprints for FOXI3/FOXO3 and ZIC3 at the SMAD2-bound enhancers of the early response genes, Pmepa1 and Wnt3 respectively, and demonstrate their functionality. Finally, we determine a mechanism by which NODAL/Activin signalling induces delayed gene expression, by uncovering a self-enabling transcriptional cascade whereby activated SMADs, together with ZIC3, induce the expression of Wnt3. The resultant activated WNT pathway then acts together with the NODAL/Activin pathway to regulate expression of delayed target genes in prolonged NODAL/Activin signalling conditions.

Journal details

Volume 135
Issue number 8
Pages jcs259972
Available online
Publication date