Cell identity and Epigenetic Inheritance
Cells within a multicellular organism contain the same DNA but have different functions. This ‘specialisation’ is achieved through differential gene expression, a process underpinned by the action of transcription factors and epigenetic regulators such as non-coding RNAs, modified histones and DNA methylation.
To ensure that cell identity is maintained as cells divide, epigenetic information must be maintained and transmitted through the cell cycle. This is particularly important during DNA synthesis (in S-phase) and when chromosomes segregate in mitosis (M-phase). We study how epigenetic information is transmitted through cell division and across generations. To do this we develop convergent molecular, proteomic and imaging approaches to examine the repertoire of factors that remain associated with mitotic chromosomes. These factors are critical for maintaining the structure of mitotic chromosomes and have also been implicated in ‘bookmarking’ of genomes to ensure that cell identity is correctly reinstated in daughter cells following cell division.
Our long-term goal is to uncover the molecular interplay between DNA-binding proteins and chromatin states that determine heritable gene silencing and inducible activation. We use a variety of genetic and cell biology tools to discover epigenetic mechanisms that regulate gene expression during development and are altered in disease settings.