Dynamic regulation of CTCF stability and subnuclear localization in response to stress

Bettina J. Lehman, Fernando J. Lopez-Diaz, Thom P. Santisakultarm, Linjing Fang, Maxim N. Shokhirev, Kenneth E. Diffenderfer, Uri Manor, Beverly M. Emerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The nuclear protein CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) has diverse roles in chromatin architecture and gene regulation. Functionally, CTCF associates with thousands of genomic sites and interacts with proteins, such as cohesin, or non-coding RNAs to facilitate specific transcriptional programming. In this study, we examined CTCF during the cellular stress response in human primary cells using immune-blotting, quantitative real time-PCR, chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequence (ChIP-seq) analysis, mass spectrometry, RNA immunoprecipitation-sequence analysis (RIP-seq), and Airyscan confocal microscopy. Unexpectedly, we found that CTCF is exquisitely sensitive to diverse forms of stress in normal patient-derived human mammary epithelial cells (HMECs). In HMECs, a subset of CTCF protein forms complexes that localize to Serine/arginine-rich splicing factor (SC-35)containing nuclear speckles. Upon stress, this species of CTCF protein is rapidly downregulated by changes in protein stability, resulting in loss of CTCF from SC-35 nuclear speckles and changes in CTCF-RNA interactions. Our ChIP-seq analysis indicated that CTCF binding to genomic DNA is largely unchanged. Restoration of the stress-sensitive pool of CTCF protein abundance and re-localization to nuclear speckles can be achieved by inhibition of proteasome-mediated degradation. Surprisingly, we observed the same characteristics of the stress response during neuronal differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). CTCF forms stress-sensitive complexes that localize to SC-35 nuclear speckles during a specific stage of neuronal commitment/development but not in differentiated neurons. We speculate that these particular CTCF complexes serve a role in RNA processing that may be intimately linked with specific genes in the vicinity of nuclear speckles, potentially to maintain cells in a certain differentiation state, that is dynamically regulated by environmental signals. The stress-regulated activity of CTCF is uncoupled in persistently stressed, epigenetically re-programmed “variant” HMECs and certain cancer cell lines. These results reveal new insights into CTCF function in cell differentiation and the stress-response with implications for oxidative damage-induced cancer initiation and neuro-degenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1009277
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 7 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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