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1.  Telomeric NAP1L4 and OSBPL5 of the KCNQ1 Cluster, and the DECORIN Gene Are Not Imprinted in Human Trophoblast Stem Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11595.
Genomic imprinting of the largest known cluster, the Kcnq1/KCNQ1 domain on mChr7/hChr11, displays significant differences between mouse and man. Of the fourteen transcripts in this cluster, imprinting of six is ubiquitous in mice and humans, however, imprinted expression of the other eight transcripts is only found in the mouse placenta. The human orthologues of the latter eight transcripts are biallelically expressed, at least from the first trimester onwards. However, as early development is less divergent between species, placental specific imprinting may be present in very early gestation in both mice and humans.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Human embryonic stem (hES) cells can be differentiated to embryoid bodies and then to trophoblast stem (EB-TS) cells. Using EB-TS cells as a model of post-implantation invading cytotrophoblast, we analysed allelic expression of two telomeric transcripts whose imprinting is placental specific in the mouse, as well as the ncRNA KCNQ1OT1, whose imprinted expression is ubiquitous in early human and mouse development. KCNQ1OT1 expression was monoallelic in all samples but OSBPL5 and NAP1L4 expression was biallelic in EB-TS cells, as well as undifferentiated hES cells and first trimester human fetal placenta. DCN on hChr12, another gene imprinted in the mouse placenta only, was also biallelically expressed in EB-TS cells. The germline maternal methylation imprint at the KvDMR was maintained in both undifferentiated hES cells and EB-TS cells.
The question of placental specific imprinting in the human has not been answered fully. Using a model of human trophoblast very early in gestation we show a lack of imprinting of two telomeric genes in the KCNQ1 region and of DCN, whose imprinted expression is placental specific in mice, providing further evidence to suggest that humans do not exhibit placental specific imprinting. The maintenance of both differential methylation of the KvDMR and monoallelic expression of KCNQ1OT1 indicates that the region is appropriately regulated epigenetically in vitro. Human gestational load is less than in the mouse, resulting in reduced need for maternal resource competition, and therefore maybe also a lack of placental specific imprinting. If genomic imprinting exists to control fetal acquisition of maternal resources driven by the placenta, placenta-specific imprinting may be less important in the human than the mouse.
PMCID: PMC2904374  PMID: 20644730
2.  Bisphenol A Exposure Disrupts Genomic Imprinting in the Mouse 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(4):e1003401.
Exposure to endocrine disruptors is associated with developmental defects. One compound of concern, to which humans are widely exposed, is bisphenol A (BPA). In model organisms, BPA exposure is linked to metabolic disorders, infertility, cancer, and behavior anomalies. Recently, BPA exposure has been linked to DNA methylation changes, indicating that epigenetic mechanisms may be relevant. We investigated effects of exposure on genomic imprinting in the mouse as imprinted genes are regulated by differential DNA methylation and aberrant imprinting disrupts fetal, placental, and postnatal development. Through allele-specific and quantitative real-time PCR analysis, we demonstrated that maternal BPA exposure during late stages of oocyte development and early stages of embryonic development significantly disrupted imprinted gene expression in embryonic day (E) 9.5 and 12.5 embryos and placentas. The affected genes included Snrpn, Ube3a, Igf2, Kcnq1ot1, Cdkn1c, and Ascl2; mutations and aberrant regulation of these genes are associated with imprinting disorders in humans. Furthermore, the majority of affected genes were expressed abnormally in the placenta. DNA methylation studies showed that BPA exposure significantly altered the methylation levels of differentially methylated regions (DMRs) including the Snrpn imprinting control region (ICR) and Igf2 DMR1. Moreover, exposure significantly reduced genome-wide methylation levels in the placenta, but not the embryo. Histological and immunohistochemical examinations revealed that these epigenetic defects were associated with abnormal placental development. In contrast to this early exposure paradigm, exposure outside of the epigenetic reprogramming window did not cause significant imprinting perturbations. Our data suggest that early exposure to common environmental compounds has the potential to disrupt fetal and postnatal health through epigenetic changes in the embryo and abnormal development of the placenta.
Author Summary
BPA is a widely used compound to which humans are exposed, and recent studies have demonstrated the association between exposure and adverse developmental outcomes in both animal models and humans. Unfortunately, exact mechanisms of BPA–induced health abnormalities are unclear, and elucidation of these relevant biological pathways is critical for understanding the public health implication of exposure. Recently, increasing data have demonstrated the ability of BPA to induce changes in DNA methylation, suggesting that epigenetic mechanisms are relevant. In this work, we study effects of BPA exposure on expression and regulation of imprinted genes in the mouse. Imprinted genes are regulated by differential DNA methylation, and they play critical roles during fetal, placental, and postnatal development. We have found that fetal exposure to BPA at physiologically relevant doses alters expression and methylation status of imprinted genes in the mouse embryo and placenta, with the latter tissue exhibiting the more significant changes. Additionally, abnormal imprinting is associated with defective placental development. Our data demonstrate that BPA exposure may perturb fetal and postnatal health through epigenetic changes in the embryo as well as through alterations in placental development.
PMCID: PMC3616904  PMID: 23593014
3.  Genome-wide mapping of imprinted differentially methylated regions by DNA methylation profiling of human placentas from triploidies 
Genomic imprinting is an important epigenetic process involved in regulating placental and foetal growth. Imprinted genes are typically associated with differentially methylated regions (DMRs) whereby one of the two alleles is DNA methylated depending on the parent of origin. Identifying imprinted DMRs in humans is complicated by species- and tissue-specific differences in imprinting status and the presence of multiple regulatory regions associated with a particular gene, only some of which may be imprinted. In this study, we have taken advantage of the unbalanced parental genomic constitutions in triploidies to further characterize human DMRs associated with known imprinted genes and identify novel imprinted DMRs.
By comparing the promoter methylation status of over 14,000 genes in human placentas from ten diandries (extra paternal haploid set) and ten digynies (extra maternal haploid set) and using 6 complete hydatidiform moles (paternal origin) and ten chromosomally normal placentas for comparison, we identified 62 genes with apparently imprinted DMRs (false discovery rate <0.1%). Of these 62 genes, 11 have been reported previously as DMRs that act as imprinting control regions, and the observed parental methylation patterns were concordant with those previously reported. We demonstrated that novel imprinted genes, such as FAM50B, as well as novel imprinted DMRs associated with known imprinted genes (for example, CDKN1C and RASGRF1) can be identified by using this approach. Furthermore, we have demonstrated how comparison of DNA methylation for known imprinted genes (for example, GNAS and CDKN1C) between placentas of different gestations and other somatic tissues (brain, kidney, muscle and blood) provides a detailed analysis of specific CpG sites associated with tissue-specific imprinting and gestational age-specific methylation.
DNA methylation profiling of triploidies in different tissues and developmental ages can be a powerful and effective way to map and characterize imprinted regions in the genome.
PMCID: PMC3154142  PMID: 21749726
4.  Identification of the Imprinted KLF14 Transcription Factor Undergoing Human-Specific Accelerated Evolution  
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(5):e65.
Imprinted genes are expressed in a parent-of-origin manner and are located in clusters throughout the genome. Aberrations in the expression of imprinted genes on human Chromosome 7 have been suggested to play a role in the etiologies of Russell-Silver Syndrome and autism. We describe the imprinting of KLF14, an intronless member of the Krüppel-like family of transcription factors located at Chromosome 7q32. We show that it has monoallelic maternal expression in all embryonic and extra-embryonic tissues studied, in both human and mouse. We examine epigenetic modifications in the KLF14 CpG island in both species and find this region to be hypomethylated. In addition, we perform chromatin immunoprecipitation and find that the murine Klf14 CpG island lacks allele-specific histone modifications. Despite the absence of these defining features, our analysis of Klf14 in offspring from DNA methyltransferase 3a conditional knockout mice reveals that the gene's expression is dependent upon a maternally methylated region. Due to the intronless nature of Klf14 and its homology to Klf16, we suggest that the gene is an ancient retrotransposed copy of Klf16. By sequence analysis of numerous species, we place the timing of this event after the divergence of Marsupialia, yet prior to the divergence of the Xenarthra superclade. We identify a large number of sequence variants in KLF14 and, using several measures of diversity, we determine that there is greater variability in the human lineage with a significantly increased number of nonsynonymous changes, suggesting human-specific accelerated evolution. Thus, KLF14 may be the first example of an imprinted transcript undergoing accelerated evolution in the human lineage.
Author Summary
Imprinted genes are expressed in a parent-of-origin manner, where one of the two inherited copies of the imprinted gene is silenced. Aberrations in the expression of these genes, which generally regulate growth, are associated with various developmental disorders, emphasizing the importance of their discovery and analysis. In this study, we identify a novel imprinted gene, named KLF14, on human Chromosome 7. It is predicted to bind DNA and regulate transcription and was shown to be expressed from the maternally inherited chromosome in all human and mouse tissues examined. Surprisingly, we did not identify molecular signatures generally associated with imprinted regions, such as DNA methylation. Additionally, the identification of numerous DNA sequence variants led to an in-depth analysis of the gene's evolution. It was determined that there is greater variability in KLF14 in the human lineage, when compared to other primates, with a significantly increased number of polymorphisms encoding for changes at the protein level, suggesting human-specific accelerated evolution. As the first example of an imprinted transcript undergoing accelerated evolution in the human lineage, we propose that the accumulation of polymorphisms in KLF14 may be aided by the silencing of the inactive allele, allowing for stronger selection.
PMCID: PMC1865561  PMID: 17480121
Developmental biology  2011;353(2):420-431.
A subset of imprinted genes in the mouse have been reported to show imprinted expression that is restricted to the placenta, a short-lived extra-embryonic organ. Notably these so-called 'placental-specific' imprinted genes are expressed from both parental alleles in embryo and adult tissues. The placenta is an embryonic-derived organ that is closely associated with maternal tissue and as a consequence, maternal contamination can be mistaken for maternal-specific imprinted expression. The complexity of the placenta, which arises from multiple embryonic lineages, poses additional problems in accurately assessing allele-specific repressive epigenetic modifications in genes that also show lineage-specific silencing in this organ. These problems require that extra evidence be obtained to support the imprinted status of genes whose imprinted expression is restricted to the placenta. We show here that the extra-embryonic visceral yolk sac (VYS), a nutritive membrane surrounding the developing embryo, shows a similar 'extra-embryonic-lineage-specific' pattern of imprinted expression. We present an improved enzymatic technique for separating the bilaminar VYS and show that this pattern of imprinted expression is restricted to the endoderm layer. Finally, we show that VYS 'extra-embryonic-lineage-specific' imprinted expression is regulated by DNA methylation in a similar manner as shown for genes showing multi-lineage imprinted expression in extra-embryonic, embryonic and adult tissues. These results show that the VYS is an improved model for studying the epigenetic mechanisms regulating extra-embryonic-lineage-specific imprinted expression.
PMCID: PMC3081948  PMID: 21354127
genomic imprinting; placenta; yolk sac; non-coding RNA; insulator
6.  DNMT1 and AIM1 Imprinting in human placenta revealed through a genome-wide screen for allele-specific DNA methylation 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:685.
Genomic imprinting is an epigenetically regulated process wherein genes are expressed in a parent-of-origin specific manner. Many imprinted genes were initially identified in mice; some of these were subsequently shown not to be imprinted in humans. Such discrepancy reflects developmental, morphological and physiological differences between mouse and human tissues. This is particularly relevant for the placenta. Study of genomic imprinting thus needs to be carried out in a species and developmental stage-specific manner. We describe here a new strategy to study allele-specific DNA methylation in the human placenta for the discovery of novel imprinted genes.
Using this methodology, we confirmed 16 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) associated with known imprinted genes. We chose 28 genomic regions for further testing and identified two imprinted genes (DNMT1 and AIM1). Both genes showed maternal allele-specific methylation and paternal allele-specific transcription. Imprinted expression for AIM1 was conserved in the cynomolgus macaque placenta, but not in other macaque tissues or in the mouse.
Our study indicates that while there are many genomic regions with allele-specific methylation in tissues like the placenta, only a small sub-set of them are associated with allele-specific transcription, suggesting alternative functions for such genomic regions. Nonetheless, novel tissue-specific imprinted genes remain to be discovered in humans. Their identification may help us better understand embryonic and fetal development.
PMCID: PMC3829101  PMID: 24094292
Genomic imprinting; Placenta; Next generation sequencing; Differentially Methylated Region (DMR); DNMT1; AIM1
7.  Characterisation of marsupial PHLDA2 reveals eutherian specific acquisition of imprinting 
Genomic imprinting causes parent-of-origin specific gene expression by differential epigenetic modifications between two parental genomes. We previously reported that there is no evidence of genomic imprinting of CDKN1C in the KCNQ1 domain in the placenta of an Australian marsupial, the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) whereas tammar IGF2 and H19, located adjacent to the KCNQ1 domain in eutherian mammals, are imprinted. We have now identified and characterised the marsupial orthologue of PHLDA2, another gene in the KCNQ1 domain (also known as IPL or TSSC3) that is imprinted in eutherians. In mice, Phlda2 is a dose-sensitive negative regulator of placental growth, as Cdkn1c is for embryonic growth.
Tammar PHLDA2 is highly expressed in the yolk sac placenta compared to other fetal tissues, confirming a similar expression pattern to that of mouse Phlda2. However, tammar PHLDA2 is biallelically expressed in both the fetus and yolk sac placenta, so it is not imprinted. The lack of imprinting in tammar PHLDA2 suggests that the acquisition of genomic imprinting of the KCNQ1 domain in eutherian mammals, accompanied with gene dosage reduction, occurred after the split of the therian mammals into the marsupials and eutherians.
Our results confirm the idea that acquisition of genomic imprinting in the KCNQ1 domain occurred specifically in the eutherian lineage after the divergence of marsupials, even though imprinting of the adjacent IGF2-H19 domain arose before the marsupial-eutherian split. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that genomic imprinting of the KCNQ1 domain may have contributed to the evolution of more complex placentation in the eutherian lineage by reduction of the gene dosage of negative regulators for both embryonic and placental growth.
PMCID: PMC3170258  PMID: 21854573
8.  High-throughput analysis of candidate imprinted genes and allele-specific gene expression in the human term placenta 
BMC Genetics  2010;11:25.
Imprinted genes show expression from one parental allele only and are important for development and behaviour. This extreme mode of allelic imbalance has been described for approximately 56 human genes. Imprinting status is often disrupted in cancer and dysmorphic syndromes. More subtle variation of gene expression, that is not parent-of-origin specific, termed 'allele-specific gene expression' (ASE) is more common and may give rise to milder phenotypic differences. Using two allele-specific high-throughput technologies alongside bioinformatics predictions, normal term human placenta was screened to find new imprinted genes and to ascertain the extent of ASE in this tissue.
Twenty-three family trios of placental cDNA, placental genomic DNA (gDNA) and gDNA from both parents were tested for 130 candidate genes with the Sequenom MassArray system. Six genes were found differentially expressed but none imprinted. The Illumina ASE BeadArray platform was then used to test 1536 SNPs in 932 genes. The array was enriched for the human orthologues of 124 mouse candidate genes from bioinformatics predictions and 10 human candidate imprinted genes from EST database mining. After quality control pruning, a total of 261 informative SNPs (214 genes) remained for analysis. Imprinting with maternal expression was demonstrated for the lymphocyte imprinted gene ZNF331 in human placenta. Two potential differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were found in the vicinity of ZNF331. None of the bioinformatically predicted candidates tested showed imprinting except for a skewed allelic expression in a parent-specific manner observed for PHACTR2, a neighbour of the imprinted PLAGL1 gene. ASE was detected for two or more individuals in 39 candidate genes (18%).
Both Sequenom and Illumina assays were sensitive enough to study imprinting and strong allelic bias. Previous bioinformatics approaches were not predictive of new imprinted genes in the human term placenta. ZNF331 is imprinted in human term placenta and might be a new ubiquitously imprinted gene, part of a primate-specific locus. Demonstration of partial imprinting of PHACTR2 calls for re-evaluation of the allelic pattern of expression for the PHACTR2-PLAGL1 locus. ASE was common in human term placenta.
PMCID: PMC2871261  PMID: 20403199
9.  The Importance of Imprinting in the Human Placenta 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(7):e1001015.
As a field of study, genomic imprinting has grown rapidly in the last 20 years, with a growing figure of around 100 imprinted genes known in the mouse and approximately 50 in the human. The imprinted expression of genes may be transient and highly tissue-specific, and there are potentially hundreds of other, as yet undiscovered, imprinted transcripts. The placenta is notable amongst mammalian organs for its high and prolific expression of imprinted genes. This review discusses the development of the human placenta and focuses on the function of imprinting in this organ. Imprinting is potentially a mechanism to balance parental resource allocation and it plays an important role in growth. The placenta, as the interface between mother and fetus, is central to prenatal growth control. The expression of genes subject to parental allelic expression bias has, over the years, been shown to be essential for the normal development and physiology of the placenta. In this review we also discuss the significance of genes that lack conservation of imprinting between mice and humans, genes whose imprinted expression is often placental-specific. Finally, we illustrate the importance of imprinting in the postnatal human in terms of several human imprinting disorders, with consideration of the brain as a key organ for imprinted gene expression after birth.
PMCID: PMC2895656  PMID: 20617174
10.  Inter- and Intra-Individual Variation in Allele-Specific DNA Methylation and Gene Expression in Children Conceived using Assisted Reproductive Technology 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(7):e1001033.
Epidemiological studies have reported a higher incidence of rare disorders involving imprinted genes among children conceived using assisted reproductive technology (ART), suggesting that ART procedures may be disruptive to imprinted gene methylation patterns. We examined intra- and inter-individual variation in DNA methylation at the differentially methylated regions (DMRs) of the IGF2/H19 and IGF2R loci in a population of children conceived in vitro or in vivo. We found substantial variation in allele-specific methylation at both loci in both groups. Aberrant methylation of the maternal IGF2/H19 DMR was more common in the in vitro group, and the overall variance was also significantly greater in the in vitro group. We estimated the number of trophoblast stem cells in each group based on approximation of the variance of the binomial distribution of IGF2/H19 methylation ratios, as well as the distribution of X chromosome inactivation scores in placenta. Both of these independent measures indicated that placentas of the in vitro group were derived from fewer stem cells than the in vivo conceived group. Both IGF2 and H19 mRNAs were significantly lower in placenta from the in vitro group. Although average birth weight was lower in the in vitro group, we found no correlation between birth weight and IGF2 or IGF2R transcript levels or the ratio of IGF2/IGF2R transcript levels. Our results show that in vitro conception is associated with aberrant methylation patterns at the IGF2/H19 locus. However, very little of the inter- or intra-individual variation in H19 or IGF2 mRNA levels can be explained by differences in maternal DMR DNA methylation, in contrast to the expectations of current transcriptional imprinting models. Extraembryonic tissues of embryos cultured in vitro appear to be derived from fewer trophoblast stem cells. It is possible that this developmental difference has an effect on placental and fetal growth.
Author Summary
We have screened a population of children conceived in vitro for epigenetic alterations at two loci that carry parent-of-origin specific methylation marks. We made the observation that epigenetic variability was greater in extraembryonic tissues than embryonic tissues in both groups, as has also been demonstrated in the mouse. The greater level of intra-individual variation in extraembryonic tissues of the in vitro group appears to result from these embryos having fewer trophoblast stem cells. We also made the unexpected observation that variability in parental origin-dependent epigenetic marking was poorly correlated with gene expression. In fact, there is such a high level of inter-individual variation in IGF2 transcript level that the presumed half-fold reduction in IGF2 mRNA accounted for by proper transcriptional imprinting versus complete loss of imprinting would account for less than 5% of the total population variance. Given this level of variability in the expression of an imprinted gene, the presumed operation of “parental conflict” as the selective force acting to maintain imprinted gene expression at the IGF2/H19 locus in the human should be revisited.
PMCID: PMC2908687  PMID: 20661447
11.  Assessment of genomic imprinting of SLC38A4, NNAT, NAP1L5, and H19 in cattle 
BMC Genetics  2006;7:49.
At present, few imprinted genes have been reported in cattle compared to human and mouse. Comparative expression analysis and imprinting status are powerful tools for investigating the biological significance of genomic imprinting and studying the regulation mechanisms of imprinted genes. The objective of this study was to assess the imprinting status and pattern of expression of the SLC38A4, NNAT, NAP1L5, and H19 genes in bovine tissues.
A polymorphism-based approach was used to assess the imprinting status of four bovine genes in a total of 75 tissue types obtained from 12 fetuses and their dams. In contrast to mouse Slc38a4, which is imprinted in a tissue-specific manner, we found that SLC38A4 is not imprinted in cattle, and we found it expressed in all adult tissues examined. Two single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified in NNAT and used to distinguish between monoallelic and biallelic expression in fetal and adult tissues. The two transcripts of NNAT showed paternal expression like their orthologues in human and mouse. However, in contrast to human and mouse, NNAT was expressed in a wide range of tissues, both fetal and adult. Expression analysis of NAP1L5 in five heterozygous fetuses showed that the gene was paternally expressed in all examined tissues, in contrast to mouse where imprinting is tissue-specific. H19 was found to be maternally expressed like its orthologues in human, sheep, and mouse.
This is the first report on the imprinting status of SLC38A4, NAP1L5, and on the expression patterns of the two transcripts of NNAT in cattle. It is of interest that the imprinting of NAP1L5, NNAT, and H19 appears to be conserved between mouse and cow, although the tissue distribution of expression differs. In contrast, the imprinting of SLC38A4 appears to be species-specific.
PMCID: PMC1629023  PMID: 17064418
12.  At Least Ten Genes Define the Imprinted Dlk1-Dio3 Cluster on Mouse Chromosome 12qF1 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(2):e4352.
Genomic imprinting is an exception to Mendelian genetics in that imprinted genes are expressed monoallelically, dependent on parental origin. In mammals, imprinted genes are critical in numerous developmental and physiological processes. Aberrant imprinted gene expression is implicated in several diseases including Prader-Willi/Angelman syndromes and cancer.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To identify novel imprinted genes, transcription profiling was performed on two uniparentally derived cell lines, androgenetic and parthenogenetic primary mouse embryonic fibroblasts. A maternally expressed transcript termed Imprinted RNA near Meg3/Gtl2 (Irm) was identified and its expression studied by Northern blotting and whole mounts in situ hybridization. The imprinted region that contains Irm has a parent of origin effect in three mammalian species, including the sheep callipyge locus. In mice and humans, both maternal and paternal uniparental disomies (UPD) cause embryonic growth and musculoskeletal abnormalities, indicating that both alleles likely express essential genes. To catalog all imprinted genes in this chromosomal region, twenty-five mouse mRNAs in a 1.96Mb span were investigated for allele specific expression.
Ten imprinted genes were elucidated. The imprinting of three paternally expressed protein coding genes (Dlk1, Peg11, and Dio3) was confirmed. Seven noncoding RNAs (Meg3/Gtl2, Anti-Peg11, Meg8, Irm/“Rian”, AK050713, AK053394, and Meg9/Mirg) are characterized by exclusive maternal expression. Intriguingly, the majority of these noncoding RNA genes contain microRNAs and/or snoRNAs within their introns, as do their human orthologs. Of the 52 identified microRNAs that map to this region, six are predicted to regulate negatively Dlk1, suggesting an additional mechanism for interactions between allelic gene products. Since several previous studies relied heavily on in silico analysis and RT-PCR, our findings from Northerns and cDNA cloning clarify the genomic organization of this region. Our results expand the number of maternally expressed noncoding RNAs whose loss may be responsible for the phenotypes associated with mouse pUPD12 and human pUPD14 syndromes.
PMCID: PMC2632752  PMID: 19194500
13.  The Parental Non-Equivalence of Imprinting Control Regions during Mammalian Development and Evolution 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(11):e1001214.
In mammals, imprinted gene expression results from the sex-specific methylation of imprinted control regions (ICRs) in the parental germlines. Imprinting is linked to therian reproduction, that is, the placenta and imprinting emerged at roughly the same time and potentially co-evolved. We assessed the transcriptome-wide and ontology effect of maternally versus paternally methylated ICRs at the developmental stage of setting of the chorioallantoic placenta in the mouse (8.5dpc), using two models of imprinting deficiency including completely imprint-free embryos. Paternal and maternal imprints have a similar quantitative impact on the embryonic transcriptome. However, transcriptional effects of maternal ICRs are qualitatively focused on the fetal-maternal interface, while paternal ICRs weakly affect non-convergent biological processes, with little consequence for viability at 8.5dpc. Moreover, genes regulated by maternal ICRs indirectly influence genes regulated by paternal ICRs, while the reverse is not observed. The functional dominance of maternal imprints over early embryonic development is potentially linked to selection pressures favoring methylation-dependent control of maternal over paternal ICRs. We previously hypothesized that the different methylation histories of ICRs in the maternal versus the paternal germlines may have put paternal ICRs under higher mutational pressure to lose CpGs by deamination. Using comparative genomics of 17 extant mammalian species, we show here that, while ICRs in general have been constrained to maintain more CpGs than non-imprinted sequences, the rate of CpG loss at paternal ICRs has indeed been higher than at maternal ICRs during evolution. In fact, maternal ICRs, which have the characteristics of CpG-rich promoters, have gained CpGs compared to non-imprinted CpG-rich promoters. Thus, the numerical and, during early embryonic development, functional dominance of maternal ICRs can be explained as the consequence of two orthogonal evolutionary forces: pressure to tightly regulate genes affecting the fetal-maternal interface and pressure to avoid the mutagenic environment of the paternal germline.
Author Summary
In mammals, a subset of genes is expressed from only one chromosomal copy, depending on its parental origin. This process, known as genomic imprinting, results from DNA methylation marks deposited in gametes at regulatory sequences called imprinting control regions (ICRs). Most of the DNA methylation controlling imprinting is established in the oocyte, while very few ICRs are methylated in the sperm. We provided insight into the impact and origins of the parental imbalance in genomic imprinting control. We defined the transcriptome-wide effect of imprinting, during the transition period when the embryo becomes dependent upon maternal resources. We found that maternal ICRs have a vital effect on developmental pathways related to the mother-to-fetus exchanges, while paternal ICRs have a dispersed and non-significant effect at that stage. We evidenced that paternal ICRs are lost at a much faster rate than maternal ICRs during mammalian evolution, probably as a mechanistic consequence of different kinetics of the parental germlines. Our results support the notion that two independent evolutionary forces have led to the numerical and functional dominance of maternal ICRs: a selective advantage of parent-specific regulation of genes important for the fetal-maternal interface and pressure to avoid the mutagenic environment of the paternal germline.
PMCID: PMC2987832  PMID: 21124941
14.  The Evolution of the DLK1-DIO3 Imprinted Domain in Mammals 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(6):e135.
A comprehensive, domain-wide comparative analysis of genomic imprinting between mammals that imprint and those that do not can provide valuable information about how and why imprinting evolved. The imprinting status, DNA methylation, and genomic landscape of the Dlk1-Dio3 cluster were determined in eutherian, metatherian, and prototherian mammals including tammar wallaby and platypus. Imprinting across the whole domain evolved after the divergence of eutherian from marsupial mammals and in eutherians is under strong purifying selection. The marsupial locus at 1.6 megabases, is double that of eutherians due to the accumulation of LINE repeats. Comparative sequence analysis of the domain in seven vertebrates determined evolutionary conserved regions common to particular sub-groups and to all vertebrates. The emergence of Dlk1-Dio3 imprinting in eutherians has occurred on the maternally inherited chromosome and is associated with region-specific resistance to expansion by repetitive elements and the local introduction of noncoding transcripts including microRNAs and C/D small nucleolar RNAs. A recent mammal-specific retrotransposition event led to the formation of a completely new gene only in the eutherian domain, which may have driven imprinting at the cluster.
Author Summary
Mammals have two copies of each gene in their somatic cells, and most of these gene pairs are regulated and expressed simultaneously. A fraction of mammalian genes, however, is subject to imprinting—a chemical modification that marks a gene according to its parental origin, so that one parent's copy is expressed while the other parent's copy is silenced. How and why this process evolved is the subject of much speculation. Here we have shown that all the genes in one genomic region, Dlk1-Dio3, which are imprinted in placental mammals such as mouse and human, are not imprinted in marsupial (wallaby) or monotreme (platypus) mammals. This is in contrast to a small number of other imprinted genes that are imprinted in marsupials and other therian mammals and indicates that imprinting arose at each genomic domain at different stages of mammalian evolution. We have compared the sequence of the Dlk1-Dio3 region between seven vertebrate species and identified sequences that are differentially represented in mammals that imprint compared to those that do not. Our data indicate that once imprinted gene regulation is acquired in a domain, it becomes evolutionarily constrained to remain unchanged.
A comparative analysis of genomic imprinting between mammals that imprint and those that don't has provided insights into how and why imprinting evolved.
PMCID: PMC2408620  PMID: 18532878
15.  Epigenetic and transcriptional features of the novel human imprinted lncRNA GPR1AS suggest it is a functional ortholog to mouse Zdbf2linc 
Epigenetics  2013;8(6):635-645.
Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), transcribed from the intergenic regions of animal genomes, play important roles in key biological processes. In mice, Zdbf2linc was recently identified as an lncRNA isoform of the paternally expressed imprinted Zdbf2 gene. The functional role of Zdbf2linc remains undefined, but it may control parent-of-origin-specific expression of protein-coding neighbors through epigenetic modification in cis, similar to imprinted Nespas, Kcnq1ot1 and Airn lncRNAs. Here, we identified a novel imprinted long-range non-coding RNA, termed GPR1AS, in the human GPR1-ZDBF2 intergenic region. Although GPR1AS contains no human ZDBF2 exons, this lncRNA is transcribed in the antisense orientation from the GPR1 intron to a secondary, differentially methylated region upstream of the ZDBF2 gene (ZDBF2 DMR), similar to mouse Zdbf2linc. Interestingly, GPR1AS/Zdbf2linc is exclusively expressed in human/mouse placenta with paternal-allele-specific expression and maternal-allele-specific promoter methylation (GPR1/Gpr1 DMR). The paternal-allele specific methylation of the secondary ZDBF2 DMR was established in human placentas as well as somatic lineage. Meanwhile, the ZDBF2 gene showed stochastic paternal-allele-specific expression, possibly methylation-independent, in placental tissues. Overall, we demonstrated that epigenetic regulation mechanisms in the imprinted GPR1-GPR1AS-ZDBF2 region were well-conserved between human and mouse genomes without the high sequence conservation of the intergenic lncRNAs. Our findings also suggest that lncRNAs with highly conserved epigenetic and transcriptional regulation across species arose by divergent evolution from a common ancestor, if they do not have identical exon structures.
PMCID: PMC3857343  PMID: 23764515
lncRNA; genomic imprinting; DNA methylation; antisense RNA; placenta
16.  The IG-DMR and the MEG3-DMR at Human Chromosome 14q32.2: Hierarchical Interaction and Distinct Functional Properties as Imprinting Control Centers 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(6):e1000992.
Human chromosome 14q32.2 harbors the germline-derived primary DLK1-MEG3 intergenic differentially methylated region (IG-DMR) and the postfertilization-derived secondary MEG3-DMR, together with multiple imprinted genes. Although previous studies in cases with microdeletions and epimutations affecting both DMRs and paternal/maternal uniparental disomy 14-like phenotypes argue for a critical regulatory function of the two DMRs for the 14q32.2 imprinted region, the precise role of the individual DMR remains to be clarified. We studied an infant with upd(14)pat body and placental phenotypes and a heterozygous microdeletion involving the IG-DMR alone (patient 1) and a neonate with upd(14)pat body, but no placental phenotype and a heterozygous microdeletion involving the MEG3-DMR alone (patient 2). The results generated from the analysis of these two patients imply that the IG-DMR and the MEG3-DMR function as imprinting control centers in the placenta and the body, respectively, with a hierarchical interaction for the methylation pattern in the body governed by the IG-DMR. To our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating an essential long-range imprinting regulatory function for the secondary DMR.
Author Summary
Genomic imprinting is a process causing genes to be expressed in a parent-of-origin specific manner—some imprinted genes are expressed from maternally inherited chromosomes and others from paternally inherited chromosomes. Imprinted genes are often located in clusters regulated by regions that are differentially methylated according to their parental origin. The human chromosome 14q32.2 imprinted region harbors the germline-derived primary DLK1-MEG3 intergenic differentially methylated region (IG-DMR) and the postfertilization-derived secondary MEG3-DMR, together with multiple imprinted genes. Perturbed dosage of these imprinted genes, for example in patients with paternal and maternal uniparental disomy 14, causes distinct phenotypes. Here, through analysis of patients with microdeletions recapitulating some or all of the uniparental disomy 14 phenotypes, we show that the IG-DMR acts as an upstream regulator for the methylation pattern of the MEG3-DMR in the body but not in the placenta. Importantly, in the body, the MEG3-DMR functions as an imprinting control center. To our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating an essential function for the secondary DMR in the regulation of multiple imprinted genes. Thus, the results provide a significant advance in the clarification of underlying epigenetic features that can act to regulate imprinting.
PMCID: PMC2887472  PMID: 20585555
17.  Retrotransposon Silencing by DNA Methylation Can Drive Mammalian Genomic Imprinting 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(4):e55.
Among mammals, only eutherians and marsupials are viviparous and have genomic imprinting that leads to parent-of-origin-specific differential gene expression. We used comparative analysis to investigate the origin of genomic imprinting in mammals. PEG10 (paternally expressed 10) is a retrotransposon-derived imprinted gene that has an essential role for the formation of the placenta of the mouse. Here, we show that an orthologue of PEG10 exists in another therian mammal, the marsupial tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), but not in a prototherian mammal, the egg-laying platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), suggesting its close relationship to the origin of placentation in therian mammals. We have discovered a hitherto missing link of the imprinting mechanism between eutherians and marsupials because tammar PEG10 is the first example of a differentially methylated region (DMR) associated with genomic imprinting in marsupials. Surprisingly, the marsupial DMR was strictly limited to the 5′ region of PEG10, unlike the eutherian DMR, which covers the promoter regions of both PEG10 and the adjacent imprinted gene SGCE. These results not only demonstrate a common origin of the DMR-associated imprinting mechanism in therian mammals but provide the first demonstration that DMR-associated genomic imprinting in eutherians can originate from the repression of exogenous DNA sequences and/or retrotransposons by DNA methylation.
Author Summary
Genomic imprinting is a gene regulatory mechanism controlling parent-of-origin-dependent expression of genes. In eutherians, imprinting is essential for fetal and placental development and defects in this mechanism are the cause of several genetic disorders. In eutherian mammals, genomic imprinting is controlled by differential methylation of the DNA. However, no such methylation-dependent mechanism had been previously identified in association with marsupial imprinting. By comparing the genome of all three extant classes of mammals (eutherians, marsupials, and monotremes), we have investigated the evolution of PEG10 (paternally expressed 10), a retrotransposon-derived imprinted gene that is essential for the formation of the placenta in the mouse. PEG10 was present in a marsupial species, the tammar wallaby, but absent from an egg-laying monotreme species, the platypus. Therefore, PEG10 was inserted into the genome at the time when the placenta and viviparity were evolving in therian mammals. This study has shown that PEG10 is not only imprinted in a marsupial, but that its imprint is regulated by differential methylation, suggesting a common origin for methylation in the therian ancestor. These results provide direct evidence that retrotransposon insertion can drive the evolution of genomic imprinting in mammals.
PMCID: PMC1851980  PMID: 17432937
18.  Tissue-Specific and Minor Inter-Individual Variation in Imprinting of IGF2R Is a Common Feature of Bos taurus Concepti and Not Correlated with Fetal Weight 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e59564.
The insulin-like growth factor 2 receptor (IGF2R) is essential for prenatal growth regulation and shows gene dosage effects on fetal weight that can be affected by in-vitro embryo culture. Imprinted maternal expression of murine Igf2r is well documented for all fetal tissues excluding brain, but polymorphic imprinting and biallelic expression were reported for IGF2R in human. These differences have been attributed to evolutionary changes correlated with specific reproductive strategies. However, data from species suitable for testing this hypothesis are lacking. The domestic cow (Bos taurus) carries a single conceptus with a similar gestation length as human. We identified 12 heterozygous concepti informative for imprinting studies among 68 Bos taurus fetuses at Day 80 of gestation (28% term) and found predominantly maternal IGF2R expression in all fetal tissues but brain, which escapes imprinting. Inter-individual variation in allelic expression bias, i.e. expression of the repressed paternal allele relative to the maternal allele, ranged from 4.6−8.9% in heart, 4.3−10.2% in kidney, 6.1−11.2% in liver, 4.6−15.8% in lung and 3.2−12.2% in skeletal muscle. Allelic bias for mesodermal tissues (heart, skeletal muscle) differed significantly (P<0.05) from endodermal tissues (liver, lung). The placenta showed partial imprinting with allelic bias of 22.9−34.7% and differed significantly (P<0.001) from all other tissues. Four informative fetuses were generated by in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with embryo culture and two individuals displayed fetal overgrowth. However, there was no evidence for changes in imprinting or DNA methylation after IVF, or correlations between allelic bias and fetal weight. In conclusion, imprinting of Bos taurus IGF2R is similar to mouse except in placenta, which could indicate an effect of reproductive strategy. Common minor inter-individual variation in allelic bias and absence of imprinting abnormalities in IVF fetuses suggest changes in IGF2R expression in overgrown fetuses could be modulated through other mechanisms than changes in imprinting.
PMCID: PMC3620161  PMID: 23593146
19.  Comparative Anatomy of Chromosomal Domains with Imprinted and Non-Imprinted Allele-Specific DNA Methylation 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(8):e1003622.
Allele-specific DNA methylation (ASM) is well studied in imprinted domains, but this type of epigenetic asymmetry is actually found more commonly at non-imprinted loci, where the ASM is dictated not by parent-of-origin but instead by the local haplotype. We identified loci with strong ASM in human tissues from methylation-sensitive SNP array data. Two index regions (bisulfite PCR amplicons), one between the C3orf27 and RPN1 genes in chromosome band 3q21 and the other near the VTRNA2-1 vault RNA in band 5q31, proved to be new examples of imprinted DMRs (maternal alleles methylated) while a third, between STEAP3 and C2orf76 in chromosome band 2q14, showed non-imprinted haplotype-dependent ASM. Using long-read bisulfite sequencing (bis-seq) in 8 human tissues we found that in all 3 domains the ASM is restricted to single differentially methylated regions (DMRs), each less than 2kb. The ASM in the C3orf27-RPN1 intergenic region was placenta-specific and associated with allele-specific expression of a long non-coding RNA. Strikingly, the discrete DMRs in all 3 regions overlap with binding sites for the insulator protein CTCF, which we found selectively bound to the unmethylated allele of the STEAP3-C2orf76 DMR. Methylation mapping in two additional genes with non-imprinted haplotype-dependent ASM, ELK3 and CYP2A7, showed that the CYP2A7 DMR also overlaps a CTCF site. Thus, two features of imprinted domains, highly localized DMRs and allele-specific insulator occupancy by CTCF, can also be found in chromosomal domains with non-imprinted ASM. Arguing for biological importance, our analysis of published whole genome bis-seq data from hES cells revealed multiple genome-wide association study (GWAS) peaks near CTCF binding sites with ASM.
Author Summary
Allele-specific DNA methylation (ASM) is a central mechanism of gene regulation in humans, which can influence inter-individual differences in physical and mental traits and disease susceptibility. ASM is mediated either by parental imprinting, in which the repressed copy (allele) of the gene is determined by which type of parent (mother or father) transmitted it or, for a larger number of genes, by the local DNA sequence, independent of which parent transmitted it. Chromosomal regions with imprinted ASM have been well studied, and certain mechanistic principles, including the role of discrete differentially methylated regions (DMRs) and involvement of the insulator protein CTCF, have emerged. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying non-imprinted sequence-dependent ASM are not yet understood. Here we describe our detailed mapping of ASM across 5 gene regions, including two novel examples of imprinted ASM and three gene regions with non-imprinted, sequence-dependent ASM. Our data uncover shared molecular features – small discrete DMRs, and the binding of CTCF to these DMRs, in examples of both types of ASM. Combining ASM mapping with genetic association data suggests that sequence-dependent ASM at CTCF binding sites influences diverse human traits.
PMCID: PMC3757050  PMID: 24009515
20.  Epigenetic states and expression of imprinted genes in human embryonic stem cells 
World Journal of Stem Cells  2010;2(4):97-102.
AIM: To investigate the epigenetic states and expression of imprinted genes in five human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines derived in Taiwan.
METHODS: The heterozygous alleles of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at imprinted genes were analyzed by sequencing genomic DNAs of hESC lines and the monoallelic expression of the imprinted genes were confirmed by sequencing the cDNAs. The expression profiles of 32 known imprinted genes of five hESC lines were determined using Affymetrix human genome U133 plus 2.0 DNA microarray.
RESULTS: The heterozygous alleles of SNPs at seven imprinted genes, IPW, PEG10, NESP55, KCNQ1, ATP10A, TCEB3C and IGF2, were identified and the monoallelic expression of these imprinted genes except IGF2 were confirmed. The IGF2 gene was found to be imprinted in hESC line T2 but partially imprinted in line T3 and not imprinted in line T4 embryoid bodies. Ten imprinted genes, namely GRB10, PEG10, SGCE, MEST, SDHD, SNRPN, SNURF, NDN, IPW and NESP55, were found to be highly expressed in the undifferentiated hESC lines and down-regulated in differentiated derivatives. The UBE3A gene abundantly expressed in undifferentiated hESC lines and further up-regulated in differentiated tissues. The expression levels of other 21 imprinted genes were relatively low in undifferentiated hESC lines and five of these genes (TP73, COPG2, OSBPL5, IGF2 and ATP10A) were found to be up-regulated in differentiated tissues.
CONCLUSION: The epigenetic states and expression of imprinted genes in hESC lines should be thoroughly studied after extended culture and upon differentiation in order to understand epigenetic stability in hESC lines before their clinical applications.
PMCID: PMC3097928  PMID: 21607126
DNA microarray; Imprinting; Single nucleotide polymorphism; Human embryonic stem cell
21.  DNA sequence polymorphisms within the bovine guanine nucleotide-binding protein Gs subunit alpha (Gsα)-encoding (GNAS) genomic imprinting domain are associated with performance traits 
BMC Genetics  2011;12:4.
Genes which are epigenetically regulated via genomic imprinting can be potential targets for artificial selection during animal breeding. Indeed, imprinted loci have been shown to underlie some important quantitative traits in domestic mammals, most notably muscle mass and fat deposition. In this candidate gene study, we have identified novel associations between six validated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) spanning a 97.6 kb region within the bovine guanine nucleotide-binding protein Gs subunit alpha gene (GNAS) domain on bovine chromosome 13 and genetic merit for a range of performance traits in 848 progeny-tested Holstein-Friesian sires. The mammalian GNAS domain consists of a number of reciprocally-imprinted, alternatively-spliced genes which can play a major role in growth, development and disease in mice and humans. Based on the current annotation of the bovine GNAS domain, four of the SNPs analysed (rs43101491, rs43101493, rs43101485 and rs43101486) were located upstream of the GNAS gene, while one SNP (rs41694646) was located in the second intron of the GNAS gene. The final SNP (rs41694656) was located in the first exon of transcripts encoding the putative bovine neuroendocrine-specific protein NESP55, resulting in an aspartic acid-to-asparagine amino acid substitution at amino acid position 192.
SNP genotype-phenotype association analyses indicate that the single intronic GNAS SNP (rs41694646) is associated (P ≤ 0.05) with a range of performance traits including milk yield, milk protein yield, the content of fat and protein in milk, culled cow carcass weight and progeny carcass conformation, measures of animal body size, direct calving difficulty (i.e. difficulty in calving due to the size of the calf) and gestation length. Association (P ≤ 0.01) with direct calving difficulty (i.e. due to calf size) and maternal calving difficulty (i.e. due to the maternal pelvic width size) was also observed at the rs43101491 SNP. Following adjustment for multiple-testing, significant association (q ≤ 0.05) remained between the rs41694646 SNP and four traits (animal stature, body depth, direct calving difficulty and milk yield) only. Notably, the single SNP in the bovine NESP55 gene (rs41694656) was associated (P ≤ 0.01) with somatic cell count--an often-cited indicator of resistance to mastitis and overall health status of the mammary system--and previous studies have demonstrated that the chromosomal region to where the GNAS domain maps underlies an important quantitative trait locus for this trait. This association, however, was not significant after adjustment for multiple testing. The three remaining SNPs assayed were not associated with any of the performance traits analysed in this study. Analysis of all pairwise linkage disequilibrium (r2) values suggests that most allele substitution effects for the assayed SNPs observed are independent. Finally, the polymorphic coding SNP in the putative bovine NESP55 gene was used to test the imprinting status of this gene across a range of foetal bovine tissues.
Previous studies in other mammalian species have shown that DNA sequence variation within the imprinted GNAS gene cluster contributes to several physiological and metabolic disorders, including obesity in humans and mice. Similarly, the results presented here indicate an important role for the imprinted GNAS cluster in underlying complex performance traits in cattle such as animal growth, calving, fertility and health. These findings suggest that GNAS domain-associated polymorphisms may serve as important genetic markers for future livestock breeding programs and support previous studies that candidate imprinted loci may act as molecular targets for the genetic improvement of agricultural populations. In addition, we present new evidence that the bovine NESP55 gene is epigenetically regulated as a maternally expressed imprinted gene in placental and intestinal tissues from 8-10 week old bovine foetuses.
PMCID: PMC3025900  PMID: 21214909
22.  Quantitative analysis of DNA methylation at all human imprinted regions reveals preservation of epigenetic stability in adult somatic tissue 
Genes subject to genomic imprinting are mono-allelically expressed in a parent-of-origin dependent manner. Each imprinted locus has at least one differentially methylated region (DMR) which has allele specific DNA methylation and contributes to imprinted gene expression. Once DMRs are established, they are potentially able to withstand normal genome reprogramming events that occur during cell differentiation and germ-line DMRs are stably maintained throughout development. These DMRs, in addition to being either maternally or paternally methylated, have differences in whether methylation was acquired in the germ-line or post fertilization and are present in a variety of genomic locations with different Cytosine-phosphate guanine (CpG) densities and CTCF binding capacities. We therefore examined the stability of maintenance of DNA methylation imprints and determined the normal baseline DNA methylation levels in several adult tissues for all imprinted genes. In order to do this, we first developed and validated 50 highly specific, quantitative DNA methylation pyrosequencing assays for the known DMRs associated with human imprinted genes.
Remarkable stability of the DNA methylation imprint was observed in all germ-line DMRs and paternally methylated somatic DMRs (which maintained average methylation levels of between 35% - 65% in all somatic tissues, independent of gene expression). Maternally methylated somatic DMRs were found to have more variation with tissue specific methylation patterns. Most DMRs, however, showed some intra-individual variability for DNA methylation levels in peripheral blood, suggesting that more than one DMR needs to be examined in order to get an overall impression of the epigenetic stability in a tissue. The plasticity of DNA methylation at imprinted genes was examined in a panel of normal and cancer cell lines. All cell lines showed changes in DNA methylation, especially at the paternal germ-line and the somatic DMRs.
Our validated pyrosequencing methylation assays can be widely used as a tool to investigate DNA methylation levels of imprinted genes in clinical samples. This first comprehensive analysis of normal methylation levels in adult somatic tissues at human imprinted regions confirm that, despite intra-individual variability and tissue specific expression, imprinted genes faithfully maintain their DNA methylation in healthy adult tissue. DNA methylation levels of a selection of imprinted genes are, therefore, a valuable indicator for epigenetic stability.
PMCID: PMC3038880  PMID: 21281512
23.  Genomic Imprinting in the Arabidopsis Embryo Is Partly Regulated by PRC2 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003862.
Genomic imprinting results in monoallelic gene expression in a parent-of-origin-dependent manner and is regulated by the differential epigenetic marking of the parental alleles. In plants, genomic imprinting has been primarily described for genes expressed in the endosperm, a tissue nourishing the developing embryo that does not contribute to the next generation. In Arabidopsis, the genes MEDEA (MEA) and PHERES1 (PHE1), which are imprinted in the endosperm, are also expressed in the embryo; whether their embryonic expression is regulated by imprinting or not, however, remains controversial. In contrast, the maternally expressed in embryo 1 (mee1) gene of maize is clearly imprinted in the embryo. We identified several imprinted candidate genes in an allele-specific transcriptome of hybrid Arabidopsis embryos and confirmed parent-of-origin-dependent, monoallelic expression for eleven maternally expressed genes (MEGs) and one paternally expressed gene (PEG) in the embryo, using allele-specific expression analyses and reporter gene assays. Genetic studies indicate that the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) but not the DNA METHYLTRANSFERASE1 (MET1) is involved in regulating imprinted expression in the embryo. In the seedling, all embryonic MEGs and the PEG are expressed from both parents, suggesting that the imprint is erased during late embryogenesis or early vegetative development. Our finding that several genes are regulated by genomic imprinting in the Arabidopsis embryo clearly demonstrates that this epigenetic phenomenon is not a unique feature of the endosperm in both monocots and dicots.
Author Summary
In most cells nuclear genes are present in two copies, with one maternal and one paternal allele. Usually, the two alleles share the same fate regarding their activity, with both copies being active or both being silent. An exception to this rule are genes that are regulated by genomic imprinting, where only one allele is expressed and the other one remains silent depending on the parent it was inherited from. The two alleles are equal in terms of their DNA sequence but carry different epigenetic marks distinguishing them. Genomic imprinting evolved independently in mammals and flowering plants. In mammals, genes regulated by genomic imprinting are expressed in a wide range of tissues including the embryo and the placenta. In plants, genomic imprinting has been primarily described for genes expressed in the endosperm, a nutritive tissue in the seed with a function similar to that of the mammalian placenta. Here, we describe that some genes are also regulated by genomic imprinting in the embryo of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. An epigenetic silencing complex, the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), partly regulates genomic imprinting in the embryo. Interestingly, embryonic imprints seem to be erased during late embryo or early seedling development.
PMCID: PMC3854695  PMID: 24339783
24.  High-Resolution Analysis of Parent-of-Origin Allelic Expression in the Arabidopsis Endosperm 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002126.
Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic phenomenon leading to parent-of-origin specific differential expression of maternally and paternally inherited alleles. In plants, genomic imprinting has mainly been observed in the endosperm, an ephemeral triploid tissue derived after fertilization of the diploid central cell with a haploid sperm cell. In an effort to identify novel imprinted genes in Arabidopsis thaliana, we generated deep sequencing RNA profiles of F1 hybrid seeds derived after reciprocal crosses of Arabidopsis Col-0 and Bur-0 accessions. Using polymorphic sites to quantify allele-specific expression levels, we could identify more than 60 genes with potential parent-of-origin specific expression. By analyzing the distribution of DNA methylation and epigenetic marks established by Polycomb group (PcG) proteins using publicly available datasets, we suggest that for maternally expressed genes (MEGs) repression of the paternally inherited alleles largely depends on DNA methylation or PcG-mediated repression, whereas repression of the maternal alleles of paternally expressed genes (PEGs) predominantly depends on PcG proteins. While maternal alleles of MEGs are also targeted by PcG proteins, such targeting does not cause complete repression. Candidate MEGs and PEGs are enriched for cis-proximal transposons, suggesting that transposons might be a driving force for the evolution of imprinted genes in Arabidopsis. In addition, we find that MEGs and PEGs are significantly faster evolving when compared to other genes in the genome. In contrast to the predominant location of mammalian imprinted genes in clusters, cluster formation was only detected for few MEGs and PEGs, suggesting that clustering is not a major requirement for imprinted gene regulation in Arabidopsis.
Author Summary
Genomic imprinting poses a violation to the Mendelian rules of inheritance, which state functional equality of maternally and paternally inherited alleles. Imprinted genes are expressed dependent on their parent-of-origin, implicating an epigenetic asymmetry of maternal and paternal alleles. Genomic imprinting occurs in mammals and flowering plants. In both groups of organisms, nourishing of the progeny depends on ephemeral tissues, the placenta and the endosperm, respectively. In plants, genomic imprinting predominantly occurs in the endosperm, which is derived after fertilization of the diploid central cell with a haploid sperm cell. In this study we identify more than 60 potentially imprinted genes and show that there are different epigenetic mechanisms causing maternal and paternal-specific gene expression. We show that maternally expressed genes are regulated by DNA methylation or Polycomb group (PcG)-mediated repression, while paternally expressed genes are predominantly regulated by PcG proteins. From an evolutionary perspective, we also show that imprinted genes are associated with transposons and are more rapidly evolving than other genes in the genome. Many MEGs and PEGs encode for transcriptional regulators, implicating important functional roles of imprinted genes for endosperm and seed development.
PMCID: PMC3116908  PMID: 21698132
25.  Evolution of the CDKN1C-KCNQ1 imprinted domain 
Genomic imprinting occurs in both marsupial and eutherian mammals. The CDKN1C and IGF2 genes are both imprinted and syntenic in the mouse and human, but in marsupials only IGF2 is imprinted. This study examines the evolution of features that, in eutherians, regulate CDKN1C imprinting.
Despite the absence of imprinting, CDKN1C protein was present in the tammar wallaby placenta. Genomic analysis of the tammar region confirmed that CDKN1C is syntenic with IGF2. However, there are fewer LTR and DNA elements in the region and in intron 9 of KCNQ1. In addition there are fewer LINEs in the tammar compared with human and mouse. While the CpG island in intron 10 of KCNQ1 and promoter elements could not be detected, the antisense transcript KCNQ1OT1 that regulates CDKN1C imprinting in human and mouse is still expressed.
CDKN1C has a conserved function, likely antagonistic to IGF2, in the mammalian placenta that preceded its acquisition of imprinting. CDKN1C resides in synteny with IGF2, demonstrating that imprinting of the two genes did not occur concurrently to balance maternal and paternal influences on the growth of the placenta. The expression of KCNQ1OT1 in the absence of CDKN1C imprinting suggests that antisense transcription at this locus preceded imprinting of this domain. These findings demonstrate the stepwise accumulation of control mechanisms within imprinted domains and show that CDKN1C imprinting cannot be due to its synteny with IGF2 or with its placental expression in mammals.
PMCID: PMC2427030  PMID: 18510768

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