Jan Żylicz - Early Development and Epigenetic Regulation

The Żylicz group wants to understand how metabolic and epigenetic mechanisms cooperate to regulate transcription during early development. In particular we are interested in how metabolism regulates histone modifiers, and how these in turn affect lineage choice and embryo growth at around the time of implantation.

Staff List - Żylicz Group

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Bages Arnal, Sandra Academic Research Staff   E-mail
Batty, Oskar External   E-mail
Brun, Ida Sophie Research Assistant   E-mail
Casòliba Melich, Arnau PhD Fellow PhD Fellow   E-mail
Drews, Antar PhD Fellow +4535325989 E-mail
Kafkia, Eleni Postdoc +4535331463 E-mail
Lavro, Viktoria Anita PhD Fellow Research assistant +4535324691 E-mail
Pladevall Morera, David Postdoc Postdoc +4535332015 E-mail
Roelofsen, Annina Visiting Student   E-mail
Saxtorph, Malene Hviid External   E-mail
Stamidis, Nikolaos PhD Fellow PhD student +4591930062 E-mail
Tkaczyk, Justyna Katarzyna External   E-mail
Van Nerum, Karlien Marie F PhD Fellow +4535324339 E-mail
Wenzel, Anne Special Consultant +4535325094 E-mail
Zylicz, Jan Jakub Associate Professor - Promotion Programme   E-mail



Function of chromatin modifiers during development and differentiation

Recent technological advances helped to uncover dramatic transcriptional and epigenetic re-wiring of early mouse embryos. Our findings revealed a distinct chromatin landscape associated with primed pluripotent epiblast in vivo. Indeed, upon implantation epiblast accumulates high levels of histone H3 lysine 9 di-methylation (H3K9me2) and rearranges Polycomb-associated histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3). These two processes allow for embryo’s growth and successful gastrulation respectively. H3K9me2 and H3K27me3 marks decorate thousands of genes along the genome and yet are functionally relevant for the regulation of only about 100 loci. Similarly, we found that loss of a vital histone deacetylase: HDAC3 also leads to the deregulation of a very limited set of genes. In the Żylicz team we seek to understand not only the dynamic changes to chromatin states during development and differentiation but also their function. Why do cells expend large amounts of energy to modify swathes of the chromatin if this regulates only a handful of genes? Are chromatin marks important e.g. as a feed-forward loop to reinforce and maintain transcriptional states? Or maybe they are mainly a by-product of global cell states? To address these points we use a pallet of in vivo mouse knock-out strains as well as tuneable degron stem cell lines.

Mechanisms underlying facultative heterochromatin formation

During implantation embryonic lineages accumulate chromatin modifications associated with transcriptional repression e.g. H3K9me2 and DNA methylation. In some cases this is associated with the accumulation of facultative heterochromatin (fHC). fHC concerns the developmentally regulated heterochromatinisation of different regions of the genome and in the case of the mammalian X chromosome and imprinted loci, of only one allele of a homologous pair. The formation of fHC participates in the timely repression of genes, by resisting strong trans-activators. The Żylicz team is interested in how chromatin and transcriptional repression are coordinated along the genome. In the specific context of X chromosome inactivation fHC formation is aided by HDAC3-dependent rapid histone deacetylation. We seek to expand our understanding of how fHC forms in vivo and in vitro by performing ultra-sensitive time resolved chromatin and transcriptional mapping and integrating this with functional analysis of chromatin modifiers.

Epigenetic and metabolic coupling during mouse development

Multiple emerging evidence suggest an important functional role of metabolic changes in shaping the epigenetic landscape of a cell. This has been extensively studied in the context of cancer and stem cells but not development. Nevertheless, early mouse development is accompanied by a dramatic sequence of both metabolic and chromatin alterations, which must somehow be coordinated. This can occur by changing the availability of “epi-metabolites”, which are directly involved in chemically modifying both DNA and histones (Figure 2). Indeed, α-ketoglutarate, S-adenosylmethionine and acetyl-CoA are produced and consumed through normal metabolic processes but are also necessary for catalytic activity of chromatin-modifying enzymes. Thus dynamic metabolic changes have direct and global consequences to the chromatin state. Alternatively, expression or localisation of chromatin modifiers could be affected by factors sensing metabolic states. Żylicz team seeks to unravel this interplay between metabolism and chromatin during stem cell differentiation and development. A key question here is how global changes to metabolism and chromatin states result in distinct and specific transcriptional outcomes.

How metabolism can directly regulate chromatin and transcription? Some small metabolites are necessary for catalytic activity of chromatin modifiers. The concentration of such “epi-metabolites” can vary hugely between different cell types. Altered availability of these molecules will modify the activity of specific chromatin writers (or erasers) thus affecting chromatin modification landscape. This in turn, can have an effect on transcriptional activity of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII).

To achieve these goals we are utilising ultra-sensitive metabolomic and epigenomic assays both in vitro and in vivo. Our experimental design goes beyond characterisation of cell states but focuses on the issues of functionality of chromatin modifiers and of their coupling with metabolism. Studying the links between metabolism and chromatin provides an opportunity to address the importance of environmental factors on successful development and adult life.


Tjalsma, S. J. D. #, Hori, M. #, Sato, Y. #, Bousard, A., Ohi, A., Raposo, A. C., Roensch, J., Le Saux, A., Nogami, J., Maehara, K., Kujirai, T., Handa, T., Bagés-Arnal, S., Ohkawa, Y., Kurumizaka, H., da Rocha, S. T., Żylicz, J. J. °, Kimura, H. °, and Heard, E°. (2021). H4K20me1 and H3K27me3 are concurrently loaded onto the inactive X chromosome but dispensable for inducing gene silencing. EMBO Reports, 22(3). doi: 10.15252/embr.202051989.

Dossin, F., Pinheiro, I.#Żylicz, J.J.#, Roensch, J., Le Saux, A., Collombet, S., Chelmicki, T., Kapoor, V., Zhan, Y., Dingli, F., Loew, D., Mercher, T., Dekker, J., and Heard, E.° (2020). SPEN integrates transcriptional and epigenetic control of X-inactivationNature. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-1974-9

Żylicz, J.J.#, Bousard, A.#, Zumer, K., Dossin, F., Mohammad, E., da Rocha, S.T., Schwalb, B., Syx, L., Dingli, F., Loew, D., Cramer, P., and Heard, E.° (2019). The implication of early chromatin changes in X chromosome inactivation. Cell, 176, 182-197. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2018.11.041

Bousard, A.#, Raposo, A.C.#Żylicz, J.J.#, Picard, C., Pires, V.B., Qi, Y., Gil, C., Syx, L., Chang, H.Y., Heard, E. °, and da Rocha, S.T.° (2019). The role of Xist‐mediated Polycomb recruitment in the initiation of X‐chromosome inactivation. EMBO Reports. doi:10.15252/embr.201948019

Żylicz, J.J.#, Borensztein, M.#, Wong, F.C., Huang, Y., Lee, C., Dietmann, S., and Surani, M.A.° (2018). G9a regulates temporal preimplantation developmental program and lineage segregation in blastocystElife. doi:10.7554/eLife.33361

Żylicz, J.J., Dietmann, S., Gunesdogan, U., Hackett, J.A., Cougot, D., Lee, C., and Surani, M.A.° (2015). Chromatin dynamics and the role of G9a in gene regulation and enhancer silencing during early mouse development. Elife, 4. doi:10.7554/eLife.09571

Hackett, J.A., Sengupta, R.#Żylicz, J.J.#, Murakami, K.#, Lee, C., Down, T.A., and Surani, M.A.° (2013). Germline DNA demethylation dynamics and imprint erasure through 5-hydroxymethylcytosineScience, 339, 448-452. doi:10.1126/science.1229277

# equal contributions   ° corresponding authors


Research Profile

Jan Żylicz has a background in molecular, stem cell and developmental biology. His undergraduate training consisted of Biochemistry studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Poland) and at the Utrecht University (The Netherlands). Afterwards, he joined a Wellcome Trust PhD programme in Stem Cell Biology at the University of Cambridge (UK). Under the supervision of Prof. Azim Surani he became fascinated by early mouse development and germline specification. During PhD studies he explored the importance of histone methyltransferases in pre- and post-implantation development. He discovered that specific histone H3 lysine 9 di-methylation helps in rapidly turning enhancers off during implantation. This histone mark can thus be a feedback mechanism to reinforce triggers for transcriptional repression.

His post-doctoral training focused on the dynamic processes mediating facultative heterochromatin formation. Thanks to a prestigious Sir Henry Wellcome Fellowship he was able to study chromatin regulatory pathways promoting gene inactivation during X chromosome inactivation. His work in the team of Edith Heard at Institut Curie (Paris, France) revealed an epigenetic roadmap for inactivating one of the two X chromosomes in female cells. Specifically, he uncovered an important role of histone deacetylation by HDAC3 in reinforcing gene silencing. His post-doctoral work strengthened the understanding of how chromatin regulatory pathways shape transcriptional states in stem cells and developing mouse embryos.

The Żylicz laboratory at reNEW is now focused on understanding how metabolic and epigenetic mechanisms cooperate to regulate transcription during early development.

Curriculum Vitae

January 2022: Associate Professor, Group Leader
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, reNEW

March 2020: Associate Professor, Group Leader
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology, DanStem

July 2015 - March 2020: Post-Doctoral Training
Institut Curie in Paris, France
Advisor: Prof. Edith Heard

October 2011 - October 2015: Doctorate in Stem Cell Biology
Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, UK
Advisor: Prof. Azim Surani

October 2010 - October 2011: Master of Research in Stem Cell Biology
University of Cambridge, UK
Advisor: Prof. Azim Surani

October 2008 - July 2010: Master of Science in Biomolecular Sciences
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Advisor: Dr. René Ketting

October 2005 - June 2008: Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology
Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland
Advisor: Prof. Jan Potempa



Jan Żylicz: Epigenetics, the embryo and its environment

Associate Professor Jan Zylicz: about the beauty of biology

 Associate Professor Jan Zylicz, was awarded a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship for his project: Embryo and its environment: how metabolism shapes epigenome for development and life after birth?

The movie is a production of Lundbeck Foundation.