The cohesin-associated protein Wapal is required for proper Polycomb-mediated gene silencing

Cary Stelloh, Michael H. Reimer, Kirthi Pulakanti, Steven Blinka, Jonathan Peterson, Luca Pinello, Shuang Jia, Sergei Roumiantsev, Martin J. Hessner, Samuel Milanovich, Guo Cheng Yuan, Sridhar Rao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: The cohesin complex consists of multiple core subunits that play critical roles in mitosis and transcriptional regulation. The cohesin-associated protein Wapal plays a central role in off-loading cohesin to facilitate sister chromatid separation, but its role in regulating mammalian gene expression is not understood. We used embryonic stem cells as a model, given that the well-defined transcriptional regulatory circuits were established through master transcription factors and epigenetic pathways that regulate their ability to maintain a pluripotent state. Results: RNAi-mediated depletion of Wapal causes a loss of pluripotency, phenocopying loss of core cohesin subunits. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with next-generation sequencing (ChIP-seq), we determine that Wapal occupies genomic sites distal to genes in combination with CTCF and core cohesin subunits such as Rad21. Interestingly, genomic sites occupied by Wapal appear enriched for cohesin, implying that Wapal does not off-load cohesin at regions it occupies. Wapal depletion induces derepression of Polycomb group (PcG) target genes without altering total levels of Polycomb-mediated histone modifications, implying that PcG enzymatic activity is preserved. By integrating ChIP-seq and gene expression changes data, we identify that Wapal binding is enriched at the promoters of PcG-silenced genes and is required for proper Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) recruitment. Lastly, we demonstrate that Wapal is required for the interaction of a distal cis-regulatory element (CRE) with the c-Fos promoter. Conclusions: Collectively, this work indicates that Wapal plays a critical role in silencing of PcG target genes through the interaction of distal CREs with promoters.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalEpigenetics and Chromatin
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cohesin complex
  • Embryonic stem cells
  • Epigenetics
  • Polycomb complex
  • Wapal


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