Mechanisms of Epigenetic Inheritance

A central issue in epigenetics is whether and how epigenetic information in gametes (sperm and egg) is inherited. Cairns and colleagues discovered that “Placeholder” nucleosomes, containing histone variants, occupy DNA regions lacking methylation in both sperm and early embryos. Continue reading → Mechanisms of Epigenetic Inheritance

Genes Responsible for Maintaining Embryonic Developmental Potential

A major question concerning early embryos involves how early cleavage-stage (two-cell) embryos establish unlimited developmental potential – termed totipotency. Cairns and colleagues identified the multicopy retrogene, DUX4 in humans or Dux in mice, as a transcription factor that is turned on in very early embryos and activates hundreds of genes and retroviral elements during cleavage stage. Continue reading → Genes Responsible for Maintaining Embryonic Developmental Potential

Research Statement

The Cairns Lab strives to understand chromatin-transcription relationships – with an emphasis on development and cancer – and effectively utilizes biochemistry, genetics, and genomics in multiple model systems. The areas/questions the lab addresses include:

1) Chromatin remodeling: How are nucleosomes moved and ejected by chromatin-remodeling complexes, and how is this progress misregulated in cancer?

2) Germline and embryo gene packaging: Are genes important for embryo development (and oncogenesis) packaged in special chromatin structures while in the germline and what is their fate and impact in the early embryo?

3) How is Totipotency – the ability to become any cell type – established in early cleavage-stage embryos, and are the involved factors misregulated in cancer?

4) How does the genome ‘sculpt’ chromatin structure to achieve proper gene regulation prior to the onset of transcription in embryos?

The Cairns Lab