Phf21b imprints the spatiotemporal epigenetic switch essential for neural stem cell differentiation

Amitava Basu, Iván Mestres, Sanjeeb Kumar Sahu, Neha Tiwari, Bimola Khongwir, Jan Baumgart, Aditi Singh, Federico Calegari, Vijay K. Tiwari*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Cerebral cortical development in mammals involves a highly complex and organized set of events including the transition of neural stem and progenitor cells (NSCs) from proliferative to differentiative divisions to generate neurons. Despite progress, the spatiotemporal regulation of this proliferation-differentiation switch during neurogenesis and the upstream epigenetic triggers remain poorly known. Here we report a cortex-specific PHD finger protein, Phf21b, which is highly expressed in the neurogenic phase of cortical development and gets induced as NSCs begin to differentiate. Depletion of Phf21b in vivo inhibited neuronal differentiation as cortical progenitors lacking Phf21b were retained in the proliferative zones and underwent faster cell cycles. Mechanistically, Phf21b targets the regulatory regions of cell cycle promoting genes by virtue of its high affinity for monomethylated H3K4. Subsequently, Phf21b recruits the lysine-specific demethylase Lsd1 and histone deacetylase Hdac2, resulting in the simultaneous removal of monomethylation from H3K4 and acetylation from H3K27, respectively. Intriguingly, mutations in the Phf21b locus associate with depression and mental retardation in humans. Taken together, these findings establish how a precisely timed spatiotemporal expression of Phf21b creates an epigenetic program that triggers neural stem cell differentiation during cortical development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1190-1209
JournalGenes and Development
Issue number17-18
Early online date20 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sept 2020


  • Cortical development
  • Epigenetics
  • Gene regulation
  • Genomics
  • Neurogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


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