NEWS & VIEWS RESEARCH

low levels of SIRT6 are associated with poor patient outcomes. These findings have clinical implications: SIRT6 expression could serve as a biomarker for cancer prognosis, and SIRT6-activating compounds might be powerful drugs. Indeed, several features of SIRT6 make it an especially promising pharmacological target. In particular, it is a highly selective enzyme that removes acetyl groups from only a few proteins3, and its known cellular functions are all consistent with beneficial effects in the context of cancer. Therapeutic activation of SIRT6 might therefore have fewer unwanted effects than modulating the activity of more promiscuous enzymes. There is growing evidence that tumour suppressors often control several aspects of cancer biology, and SIRT6 is no exception3 (Fig. 1). It prevents chromosome breakage and abnormal rejoining, and promotes DNA repair — activities that protect against mutations that can fuel tumour progression. It also regulates gene-expression programs that have roles in cancer. For instance, it prevents excessive gene activation by NF-κB — a transcription factor that promotes cell proliferation, resistance to cell-death signals, and metabolic and inflammatory processes that favour tumour initiation and growth. Sebastián et al. report yet another tumour-suppressing effect of SIRT6: it limits the expression of genes that are involved in protein synthesis and which are activated by the MYC oncogene to support tumour growth. Despite these and other possible tumoursuppressive mechanisms of SIRT6 action, the researchers propose that it is the metabolic rewiring triggered by inactivation of this protein that is essential to making cells cancerous. Indeed, SIRT6 is known to oppose gene activation by HIF1, a transcription factor that activates key enzymes of glycolysis and increases glucose uptake into cells. The authors also show that reversing the increased glycolysis in cancerous SIRT6-deficient cells — by inactivating a central glycolytic enzyme or by reintroducing SIRT6 — reduces the cells’ tumorigenic potential. Sebastián and colleagues further propose that even without any other oncogenic changes, increased glycolytic metabolism due to SIRT6 loss is sufficient for tumour initiation. That a single genetic change is enough to transform normal cells into tumour cells would be a remarkable exception to the rule that combined deregulation of several pathways is required for oncogenic transformation. If proven, this could indicate that metabolic change associated with SIRT6 loss supplies a more powerful oncogenic drive than most other known cancer-promoting mutations. Alternatively, other effects of SIRT6 loss on tumour-suppressive pathways could favour early steps in cancer development. Future work should ask how various functions of SIRT6 contribute to cancer prevention, and how these intersect with cellular metabolic control. It should also be determined whether SIRT6 loss causes spontaneous tumour formation in animals. A study7 this year evaluated SIRT6deficient mice up to 17 months of age and, surprisingly, found no evidence of tumour formation. Although the number of mice investigated was small, this observation seems to be at odds with the strong tumorigenic potential of SIRT6-deficient cells that Sebastián et al. describe. Studying cancer development in larger cohorts of SIRT6-deficient mice is necessary to resolve this issue. What molecular mechanisms underlie the observed metabolic changes in SIRT6-deficient cells? Both the HIF1 and MYC pathways have central roles in the metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells, and NF-κB signalling and genomic instability can also promote glycolytic metabolism1,6. Perhaps SIRT6 prevents metabolic rewiring in cancer through several pathways, which might be redundant or operate in specific cell types or physiological contexts. Sebastián and collaborators propose that inhibition of glycolytic metabolism could be used to treat tumours that have low SIRT6 levels. Perhaps equally exciting is the prospect that activation of SIRT6 might be beneficial even in tumours that arise independently of changes in
EPI GEN ETI CS

SIRT6. If increasing the amount or activity of SIRT6 can indeed reduce the tumorigenicity of cells transformed by other oncogenic manipulations, strategies involving SIRT6 activation could eventually be widely used for tumour suppression. It is noteworthy that SIRT6 attenuates ageing-related cellular processes, and increasing its activity in mice can extend lifespan3,8. So SIRT6 activation might not only provide an anticancer strategy, but also serve as a preventive medical intervention throughout life. ■ Luisa Tasselli and Katrin F. Chua are in the Division of Endocrinology, Gerontology and Metabolism, Stanford University School of Medicine; and at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, Palo Alto, California 94304, USA. e-mail: kfchua@stanford.edu
1. Levine, A. J. & Puzio-Kuter, A. M. Science 330, 1340–1344 (2010). 2. Sebastián, C. et al. Cell 151, 1185–1199 (2012). 3. Tennen, R. I. & Chua, K. F. Trends Biochem. Sci. 36, 39–46 (2011). 4. Hanahan, D. & Weinberg, R. A. Cell 144, 646–674 (2011). 5. Hahn, W. C. et al. Nature 400, 464–468 (1999). 6. Min, L. et al. Nature Cell Biol. 14, 1203–1211 (2012). 7. Xiao, C. et al. J. Biol. Chem. 287, 41903–41913 (2012). 8. Kanfi, Y. et al. Nature 483, 218–221 (2012).

Erase for a new start
Tet proteins regulate gene expression by removing methyl groups from DNA bases. This activity may be a facilitating step in turning on the cell-division pathway that produces sperm and egg cells. See Letter p .443
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eiosis is a type of cell division that is a key feature of sexual reproduction. Meiotic division of germ cells produces sperm and egg cells, which have only one copy of each chromosome and which fuse during fertilization to create a new organism with two copies of the genetic material. This highly orchestrated process requires the activation of a specific set of meiotic genes, but how these genes are activated at the right time and in the right place is poorly understood. On page 443 of this issue, Yamaguchi et al.1 report that Tet1, a member of the recently discovered Tet protein family, is required for the activation of meiotic genes in mouse egg cells. This is exciting because Tet proteins are involved in erasing DNA epigenetic marks, suggesting that this is a crucial mechanism in meiosis. Epigenetic modifications are chemical or structural changes to DNA or DNA-bound proteins that modulate gene expression without changing the DNA sequence. One common epigenetic mark is the addition of a

methyl group to cytosine, one of the four main DNA bases, thereby creating 5-methylcytosine. In mammals, this methylation modifies the accessibility of the DNA molecule and mediates long-lasting silencing of gene expression and of parasitic mobile elements (regions of DNA that can move within the genome)2. DNA methylation is essential for the survival of the embryo, and its occurrence is dynamically regulated during development3. Members of the Tet (ten–eleven translocation) protein family have been implicated in removing this methylation mark from DNA — the proteins can oxidize 5-methylcytosine to form 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, 5-formylcytosine and 5-carboxylcytosine, which are potential intermediates of demethylation4–6. This discovery was groundbreaking, because the mechanisms of DNA demethylation in mammals were a mystery for decades, and it prompted intensive research on the three mammalian Tet proteins (Tet1–3). We now know that Tet3 is expressed in oocytes (egg cells) and is required for the reprogramming of epigenetic marks that occurs during the first

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RESEARCH NEWS & VIEWS
cell divisions of the embryo7, and that Tet2 has a key role in blood-cell maintenance and is frequently mutated in human leukaemia8. But the biological function of Tet1 has been less clear, because no major developmental defects have been found in Tet1-deficient mice9. Yamaguchi et al. studied the physiological function of Tet1 by generating genetically modified mice that do not produce a functional full-length Tet1 protein. They show that the absence of Tet1 leads to decreased fertility and fewer pups in the litters than in normal mice. This finding is consistent with the high expression of Tet1 seen in the precursor cells of eggs and sperm, and was also observed recently in another model of Tet1-deficient mice9. Focusing on females, the authors report that Tet1 deficiency leads to a decrease in the size of the ovaries, an increased incidence of cell death in the ovaries and a reduced number of fully developed oocytes. They also show that the oocytes display meiotic defects, such as a failure to align and segregate chromosome pairs efficiently, together with defective genetic recombination (the ‘shuffling’ of DNA sequences that occurs during meiotic cell division). This failure to complete meiosis probably explains why a high proportion of developing oocytes in the Tet1-deficient mice are eliminated by apoptotic cell death. To further study how Tet1 promotes meiosis, the authors examined gene-expression profiles of oocyte-precursor cells from wild-type and Tet1-deficient female mice. Strikingly, they observed that the mutant cells express reduced levels of several meiotic genes, such as those encoding components of the synaptonemal complex, which promotes chromosome alignment and recombination. The obvious next question was, what is the role of Tet1 in activating these meiotic genes? Germ-cell precursors are known to undergo a genome-wide erasure of DNA methylation during their specification for becoming germ cells3. This affects all types of sequences, including the promoter regions of many meiotic genes that are repressed by DNA methylation in somatic (non-germ) cells and that need to be demethylated in germ cells10,11. (Promoter regions are the DNA sequences at which transcription of a gene is initiated.) Given the potential role of Tet proteins in DNA demethylation, it was tempting to speculate that Tet1 is involved in the demethylation of meiotic genes. To address this, the authors measured DNA methylation in the promoters of three meiotic genes and observed various degrees of residual DNA methylation in Tet1-deficient female germ cells, which could explain the genes’ reduced expression. The authors then investigated whether Tet1 is required for the broader erasure of DNA methylation in germ-cell precursors. They generated genome-scale maps of DNA methylation and, surprisingly, observed that the absence of Tet1 only marginally impairs genome-wide demethylation. This suggests that Tet1 is required only for demethylation of specific sequences, such as meiotic genes. Unfortunately, the authors’ methylation data were at low coverage (meaning that each genomic position was measured only a small number of times), and this prevented detailed analysis of which sequences require Tet1 for demethylation in germ cells. Other aspects that need to be investigated include whether the role of Tet1 in meiotic-gene activation depends solely on its effect on 5-methyl cytosine, and whether Tet1 has similar functions in males. Since the discovery of Tet proteins, their role in epigenetic reprogramming in germ cells has been a matter of speculation. Yamaguchi and colleagues’ study provides the first genetic clues about the specifics of this activity, by showing that Tet1 is not essential for general demethylation in germ cells but is required only at certain sequences. The finding raises many questions. Do other Tet proteins compensate for the absence of Tet1? What sequences are demethylated by Tet1,
LOW-TEM PERAT U R E P H YS I CS

and how is the protein recruited to these DNA sites? What other mechanisms promote DNA demethylation in germ cells, and how do these processes interact? Could Tet1 be involved in human infertility? We are only beginning to understand the physiological and molecular roles of Tet proteins, and this work adds a new chapter to an exciting story. ■ Sylvain Guibert and Michael Weber are at the UMR 7242 Biotechnology and Cell Signalling, CNRS/University of Strasbourg, 67412 Illkirch, France. e-mail: michael.weber@unistra.fr
1. Yamaguchi, S. et al. Nature 492, 443–447 (2012). 2. Feng, S., Jacobsen, S. E. & Reik, W. Science 330, 622–627 (2010). 3. Saitou, M., Kagiwada, S. & Kurimoto, K. Development 139, 15–31 (2012). 4. Tahiliani, M. et al. Science 324, 930–935 (2009). 5. He, Y.-F. et al. Science 333, 1303–1307 (2011). 6. Ito, S. et al. Science 333, 1300–1303 (2011). 7. Gu, T.-P. et al. Nature 477, 606–610 (2011). 8. Quivoron, C. et al. Cancer Cell 20, 25–38 (2011). 9. Dawlaty, M. M. et al. Cell Stem Cell 9, 166–175 (2011). 10. Borgel, J. et al. Nature Genet. 42, 1093–1100 (2010). 11. Hackett, J. A. et al. Development 139, 3623–3632 (2012).

Cool molecules
A sample of the hydroxyl radical has been cooled to a temperature of a few millikelvin. The result opens the door to observing phenomena such as Bose–Einstein condensation of molecules in their ground state. See Letter p .396
PA U L S . J U L I E N N E

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ince the advent of laser cooling and evaporative cooling more than two decades ago, ultracold trapped atoms at temperatures close to a millionth of a kelvin have been used in a wide range of research involving precision measurement and exotic quantum phenomena. Molecules, on the other hand, have resisted cooling down to even 1 millikelvin. On page 396 of this issue, Stuhl et al.1 describe a breakthrough in molecular cooling. They demonstrate strong evaporative cooling that lowers the temperature from 50 mK to just a few millikelvin and increases the density of a decelerated and trapped sample of the chemically interesting hydroxyl radical (OH). Why are cold atoms or molecules so interesting? First, cold means slow — the velocity of an ultracold atom or molecule is so low that its location in space becomes spread out and wave-like, in accordance with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The de Broglie wavelength, which is a measure of this quantum delocalization, can be many hundreds of nanometres or larger. Furthermore, an atom or molecule can be either a boson or a
© 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved

fermion, depending on its spin quantum number. The OH molecule is a composite boson, for example, having an integer spin quantum number. When the phase-space density (the number of atoms or molecules per cubic de Broglie wavelength) becomes large enough, approaching unity, the ‘quantum degenerate regime’ is reached. In this regime, bosons can exhibit exotic quantum phenomena, such as Bose–Einstein condensation, in which all the particles occupy a single wave-like quantum state. Other quantum phenomena are possible with cold fermions, including particle pairing similar to that seen in superconductivity. Although cold molecules are in many ways similar to cold atoms, their more complex structure offers a richer range of phenomena. For example, for OH, which has an electric dipole moment, there are strong long-range forces between two molecules. These forces make it easy to control or engineer a wider range of condensed-matter quantum effects with molecules than with atoms2,3. Another difference is that molecules can take part in chemical reactions. Fast chemical reactions of molecular fermions can be turned off if they are cold enough, because the Pauli exclusion principle

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