Cell behaviors are dictated by epigenetic and transcriptional programs. Little is known about how extracellular stimuli modulate these programs to reshape gene expression and control cell behavioral responses. Here, we interrogated the epigenetic and transcriptional response of endothelial cells to VEGFA treatment and found rapid chromatin changes that mediate broad transcriptomic alterations. VEGFA-responsive genes were associated with active promoters, but changes in promoter histone marks were not tightly linked to gene expression changes. VEGFA altered transcription factor occupancy and the distal epigenetic landscape, which profoundly contributed to VEGFA-dependent changes in gene expression. Integration of gene expression, dynamic enhancer, and transcription factor occupancy changes induced by VEGFA yielded a VEGFA-regulated transcriptional regulatory network, which revealed that the small MAF transcription factors are master regulators of the VEGFA transcriptional program and angiogenesis. Collectively these results revealed that extracellular stimuli rapidly reconfigure the chromatin landscape to coordinately regulate biological responses.
Release of promoter-proximally paused RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) is a recently recognized transcriptional regulatory checkpoint. The biological roles of RNAPII pause release and the mechanisms by which extracellular signals control it are incompletely understood. Here we show that VEGF stimulates RNAPII pause release by stimulating acetylation of ETS1, a master endothelial cell transcriptional regulator. In endothelial cells, ETS1 binds transcribed gene promoters and stimulates their expression by broadly increasing RNAPII pause release. 34 VEGF enhances ETS1 chromatin occupancy and increases ETS1 acetylation, enhancing its binding to BRD4, which recruits the pause release machinery and increases RNAPII pause release. Endothelial cell angiogenic responses in vitro and in vivo require ETS1-mediated transduction of VEGF signaling to release paused RNAPII. Our results define an angiogenic pathway in which VEGF enhances ETS1-BRD4 interaction to broadly promote RNAPII pause release and drive angiogenesis.Promoter proximal RNAPII pausing is a rate-limiting transcriptional mechanism. Chen et al. show that this process is essential in angiogenesis by demonstrating that the endothelial master transcription factor ETS1 promotes global RNAPII pause release, and that this process is governed by VEGF.
BACKGROUND: For many genes, RNA polymerase II stably pauses before transitioning to productive elongation. Although polymerase II pausing has been shown to be a mechanism for regulating transcriptional activation, the extent to which it is involved in control of mammalian gene expression and its relationship to chromatin structure remain poorly understood. RESULTS: Here, we analyze 85 RNA polymerase II chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-sequencing experiments from 35 different murine and human samples, as well as related genome-wide datasets, to gain new insights into the relationship between polymerase II pausing and gene regulation. Across cell and tissue types, paused genes (pausing index > 2) comprise approximately 60 % of expressed genes and are repeatedly associated with specific biological functions. Paused genes also have lower cell-to-cell expression variability. Increased pausing has a non-linear effect on gene expression levels, with moderately paused genes being expressed more highly than other paused genes. The highest gene expression levels are often achieved through a novel pause-release mechanism driven by high polymerase II initiation. In three datasets examining the impact of extracellular signals, genes responsive to stimulus have slightly lower pausing index on average than non-responsive genes, and rapid gene activation is linked to conditional pause-release. Both chromatin structure and local sequence composition near the transcription start site influence pausing, with divergent features between mammals and Drosophila. Most notably, in mammals pausing is positively correlated with histone H2A.Z occupancy at promoters. CONCLUSIONS: Our results provide new insights into the contribution of RNA polymerase II pausing in mammalian gene regulation and chromatin structure.
Histone modifications are now well-established mediators of transcriptional programs that distinguish cell states. However, the kinetics of histone modification and their role in mediating rapid, signal-responsive gene expression changes has been little studied on a genome-wide scale. Vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA), a major regulator of angiogenesis, triggers changes in transcriptional activity of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Here, we used chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by high-throughput sequencing (ChIP-seq) to measure genome-wide changes in histone H3 acetylation at lysine 27 (H3K27ac), a marker of active enhancers, in unstimulated HUVECs and HUVECs stimulated with VEGFA for 1, 4, and 12 h. We show that sites with the greatest H3K27ac change upon stimulation were associated tightly with EP300, a histone acetyltransferase. Using the variation of H3K27ac as a novel epigenetic signature, we identified transcriptional regulatory elements that are functionally linked to angiogenesis, participate in rapid VEGFA-stimulated changes in chromatin conformation, and mediate VEGFA-induced transcriptional responses. Dynamic H3K27ac deposition and associated changes in chromatin conformation required EP300 activity instead of altered nucleosome occupancy or changes in DNase I hypersensitivity. EP300 activity was also required for a subset of dynamic H3K27ac sites to loop into proximity of promoters. Our study identified thousands of endothelial, VEGFA-responsive enhancers, demonstrating that an epigenetic signature based on the variation of a chromatin feature is a productive approach to define signal-responsive genomic elements. Further, our study implicates global epigenetic modifications in rapid, signal-responsive transcriptional regulation.