The ATP-dependent BRG1/BRM associated factor (BAF) chromatin remodeling complexes are crucial in regulating gene expression by controlling chromatin dynamics. Over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that during neural development in mammals, distinct ontogenetic stage-specific BAF complexes derived from combinatorial assembly of their subunits are formed in neural progenitors and post-mitotic neural cells. Proper functioning of the BAF complexes plays critical roles in neural development, including the establishment and maintenance of neural fates and functionality. Indeed, recent human exome sequencing and genome-wide association studies have revealed that mutations in BAF complex subunits are linked to neurodevelopmental disorders such as Coffin-Siris syndrome, Nicolaides-Baraitser syndrome, Kleefstra’s syndrome spectrum, Hirschsprung’s disease, autism spectrum disorder, and schizophrenia. In this review, we focus on the latest insights into the functions of BAF complexes during neural development and the plausible mechanistic basis of how mutations in known BAF subunits are associated with certain neurodevelopmental disorders.
Neurogenesis is a key developmental event through which neurons are generated from neural stem/progenitor cells. Chromatin remodeling BAF (mSWI/SNF) complexes have been reported to play essential roles in the neurogenesis of the central nervous system. However, whether BAF complexes are required for neuron generation in the olfactory system is unknown. Here, we identified onscBAF and ornBAF complexes, which are specifically present in olfactory neural stem cells (oNSCs) and olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs), respectively. We demonstrated that BAF155 subunit is highly expressed in both oNSCs and ORNs, whereas high expression of BAF170 subunit is observed only in ORNs. We report that conditional deletion of BAF155, a core subunit in both onscBAF and ornBAF complexes, causes impaired proliferation of oNSCs as well as defective maturation and axonogenesis of ORNs in the developing olfactory epithelium (OE), while the high expression of BAF170 is important for maturation of ORNs. Interestingly, in the absence of BAF complexes in BAF155/BAF170 double-conditional knockout mice (dcKO), OE is not specified. Mechanistically, BAF complex is required for normal activation of Pax6-dependent transcriptional activity in stem cells/progenitors of the OE. Our findings unveil a novel mechanism mediated by the mSWI/SNF complex in OE neurogenesis and development.
The multi-subunit chromatin-remodeling SWI/SNF (known as BAF for Brg/Brm-associated factor) complexes play essential roles in development. Studies have shown that the loss of individual BAF subunits often affects local chromatin structure and specific transcriptional programs. However, we do not fully understand how BAF complexes function in development because no animal mutant had been engineered to lack entire multi-subunit BAF complexes. Importantly, we recently reported that double conditional knock-out (dcKO) of the BAF155 and BAF170 core subunits in mice abolished the presence of the other BAF subunits in the developing cortex. The generated dcKO mutant provides a novel and powerful tool for investigating how entire BAF complexes affect cortical development. Using this model, we found that BAF complexes globally control the key heterochromatin marks, H3K27me2 and -3, by directly modulating the enzymatic activity of the H3K27 demethylases, Utx and Jmjd3. Here, we present further insights into how the scaffolding ability of the BAF155 and BAF170 core subunits maintains the stability of BAF complexes in the forebrain and throughout the embryo during development. Furthermore, we show that the loss of BAF complexes in the above-described model up-regulates H3K27me3 and impairs forebrain development and embryogenesis. These findings improve our understanding of epigenetic mechanisms and their modulation by the chromatin-remodeling SWI/SNF complexes that control embryonic development.