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HDAC9 structural variants disrupting TWIST1 transcriptional regulation lead to craniofacial and limb malformations

By Naama Hirsch, Idit Dahan, Eva Dhaene, Matan Avni, Sarah Vergult, Marta Vidal-GarcĂ­a, Pamela Magini, Claudio Graziano, Giulia Severi, Benedikt Hallgrimsson, Anna Maria Nardone, Francesco Brancati, Alberto Fernandez-Jaen, Rory J. Olson, Benedikt Hallgrimsson, Ramon Y Birnbaum

Posted 11 Aug 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.08.10.455254

Structural variants (SVs) can affect protein-coding sequences as well as gene regulatory elements. However, SVs disrupting protein-coding sequences that also function as cis-regulatory elements remain largely uncharacterized. Here, we show that craniosynostosis patients with SVs containing the Histone deacetylase 9 (HDAC9) protein-coding sequence are associated with disruption of TWIST1 regulatory elements that reside within HDAC9 sequence. Based on SVs within the HDAC9-TWIST1 locus, we defined the 3' HDAC9 sequence (~500Kb) as a critical TWIST1 regulatory region, encompassing craniofacial TWIST1 enhancers and CTCF sites. Deletions of either Twist1 enhancers (eTw5-7{Delta}/{Delta}) or Ctcf site (Ctcf{Delta}/{Delta}) within the Hdac9 protein-coding sequence in mice led to decreased Twist1 expression and altered anterior\posterior limb expression patterns of Shh pathway genes. This decreased Twist1 expression results in a smaller sized and asymmetric skull and polydactyly that resembles Twist1+/- mouse phenotype. Chromatin conformation analysis revealed that the Twist1 promoter region interacts with Hdac9 sequences that encompass Twist1 enhancers and a Ctcf site and that interactions depended on the presence of both regulatory regions. Finally, a large inversion of the entire Hdac9 sequence (Hdac9INV/+) in mice that does not disrupt Hdac9 expression but repositions Twist1 regulatory elements showed decreased Twist1 expression and led to a craniosynostosis-like phenotype and polydactyly. Thus, our study elucidated essential components of TWIST1 transcriptional machinery that reside within the HDAC9 sequence, suggesting that SVs, encompassing protein-coding sequence, such as HDAC9, could lead to a phenotype that is not attributed to its protein function but rather to a disruption of the transcriptional regulation of a nearby gene, such as TWIST1.

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