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1.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059564
PMCID: PMC3620161  PMID: 23593146
2.  Maternal and Paternal Genomes Differentially Affect Myofibre Characteristics and Muscle Weights of Bovine Fetuses at Midgestation 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53402.
Postnatal myofibre characteristics and muscle mass are largely determined during fetal development and may be significantly affected by epigenetic parent-of-origin effects. However, data on such effects in prenatal muscle development that could help understand unexplained variation in postnatal muscle traits are lacking. In a bovine model we studied effects of distinct maternal and paternal genomes, fetal sex, and non-genetic maternal effects on fetal myofibre characteristics and muscle mass. Data from 73 fetuses (Day153, 54% term) of four genetic groups with purebred and reciprocal cross Angus and Brahman genetics were analyzed using general linear models. Parental genomes explained the greatest proportion of variation in myofibre size of Musculus semitendinosus (80–96%) and in absolute and relative weights of M. supraspinatus, M. longissimus dorsi, M. quadriceps femoris and M. semimembranosus (82–89% and 56–93%, respectively). Paternal genome in interaction with maternal genome (P<0.05) explained most genetic variation in cross sectional area (CSA) of fast myotubes (68%), while maternal genome alone explained most genetic variation in CSA of fast myofibres (93%, P<0.01). Furthermore, maternal genome independently (M. semimembranosus, 88%, P<0.0001) or in combination (M. supraspinatus, 82%; M. longissimus dorsi, 93%; M. quadriceps femoris, 86%) with nested maternal weight effect (5–6%, P<0.05), was the predominant source of variation for absolute muscle weights. Effects of paternal genome on muscle mass decreased from thoracic to pelvic limb and accounted for all (M. supraspinatus, 97%, P<0.0001) or most (M. longissimus dorsi, 69%, P<0.0001; M. quadriceps femoris, 54%, P<0.001) genetic variation in relative weights. An interaction between maternal and paternal genomes (P<0.01) and effects of maternal weight (P<0.05) on expression of H19, a master regulator of an imprinted gene network, and negative correlations between H19 expression and fetal muscle mass (P<0.001), suggested imprinted genes and miRNA interference as mechanisms for differential effects of maternal and paternal genomes on fetal muscle.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053402
PMCID: PMC3544898  PMID: 23341941
3.  Quantitative Allele-Specific Expression and DNA Methylation Analysis of H19, IGF2 and IGF2R in the Human Placenta across Gestation Reveals H19 Imprinting Plasticity 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51210.
Imprinted genes play important roles in placental differentiation, growth and function, with profound effects on fetal development. In humans, H19 and IGF2 are imprinted, but imprinting of IGF2R remains controversial. The H19 non-coding RNA is a negative regulator of placental growth and altered placental imprinting of H19-IGF2 has been associated with pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, which have been attributed to abnormal first trimester placentation. This suggests that changes in imprinting during the first trimester may precede aberrant placental morphogenesis. To better understand imprinting in the human placenta during early gestation, we quantified allele-specific expression for H19, IGF2 and IGF2R in first trimester (6–12 weeks gestation) and term placentae (37–42 weeks gestation) using pyrosequencing. Expression of IGF2R was biallelic, with a mean expression ratio of 49∶51 (SD = 0.07), making transient imprinting unlikely. Expression from the repressed H19 alleles ranged from 1–25% and was higher (P<0.001) in first trimester (13.5±8.2%) compared to term (3.4±2.1%) placentae. Surprisingly, despite the known co-regulation of H19 and IGF2, little variation in expression of the repressed IGF2 alleles was observed (2.7±2.0%). To identify regulatory regions that may be responsible for variation in H19 allelic expression, we quantified DNA methylation in the H19-IGF2 imprinting control region and H19 transcription start site (TSS). Unexpectedly, we found positive correlations (P<0.01) between DNA methylation levels and expression of the repressed H19 allele at 5 CpG’s 2000 bp upstream of the H19 TSS. Additionally, DNA methylation was significantly higher (P<0.05) in first trimester compared with term placentae at 5 CpG’s 39–523 bp upstream of the TSS, but was not correlated with H19 repressed allele expression. Our data suggest that variation in H19 imprinting may contribute to early programming of placental phenotype and illustrate the need for quantitative and robust methodologies to further elucidate the role of imprinted genes in normal and pathological placental development.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051210
PMCID: PMC3515552  PMID: 23227253
4.  INSL3 in the Ruminant: A Powerful Indicator of Gender- and Genetic-Specific Feto-Maternal Dialogue 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19821.
The hormone Insulin-like peptide 3 (INSL3) is a major secretory product of the Leydig cells from both fetal and adult testes. Consequently, it is a major gender-specific circulating hormone in the male fetus, where it is responsible for the first phase of testicular descent, and in the adult male. In most female mammals, circulating levels are very low, corresponding to only a small production of INSL3 by the mature ovaries. Female ruminants are exceptional in exhibiting high INSL3 gene expression by the thecal cells of antral follicles and by the corpora lutea. We have developed a specific and sensitive immunoassay to measure ruminant INSL3 and show that, corresponding to the high ovarian gene expression, non-pregnant adult female sheep and cows have up to four times the levels observed in other female mammals. Significantly, this level declines during mid-pregnancy in cows carrying a female fetus, in which INSL3 is undetectable. However, in cows carrying a male fetus, circulating maternal INSL3 becomes elevated further, presumably due to the transplacental transfer of fetal INSL3 into the maternal circulation. Within male fetal blood, INSL3 is high in mid-pregnancy (day 153) corresponding to the first transabdominal phase of testicular descent, and shows a marked dependence on paternal genetics, with pure bred or hybrid male fetuses of Bos taurus (Angus) paternal genome having 30% higher INSL3 levels than those of Bos indicus (Brahman) paternity. Thus INSL3 provides the first example of a gender-specific fetal hormone with the potential to influence both placental and maternal physiology.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019821
PMCID: PMC3095623  PMID: 21603619
5.  Quantification of Leukocyte Genomic 5-Methylcytosine Levels Reveals Epigenetic Plasticity in Healthy Adult Cloned Cattle 
Cellular Reprogramming  2010;12(2):175-181.
Abstract
Successful somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) requires epigenetic reprogramming of a differentiated donor cell nucleus. Incorrect reprogramming of epigenetic markings such as DNA methylation is associated with compromised prenatal development and postnatal abnormalities. Clones that survive into adulthood, in contrast, are assumed to possess a normalized epigenome corresponding to their normal phenotype. To address this point, we used capillary electrophoresis to measure 5-methylcytosine (5mC) levels in leukocyte DNA of 38 healthy female bovine clones that represented five genotypes from the Simmental breed and four genotypes from the Holstein breed. The estimated variance in 5mC level within clone genotypes of both breeds [0.104, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.070–0.168] was higher than between clone genotypes (0, CI: 0–0.047). We quantified the contribution of SCNT to this unexpected variability by comparing the 19 Simmental clones with 12 female Simmental monozygotic twin pairs of similar age. In Simmental clones, the estimated variability within genotype (0.0636, CI: 0.0358–0.127) was clearly higher than in twin pairs (0.0091, CI: 0.0047–0.0229). In clones, variability within genotype (0.0636) was again higher than between genotypes (0, CI: 0–0.077). Twins, in contrast, showed lower variability within genotypes (0.0091) than between genotypes (0.0136, CI: 0.00250–0.0428). Importantly, the absolute deviations of 5mC values of individual SCNT clones from their genotype means were fivefold increased in comparison to twins. Further comparisons with noncloned controls revealed DNA hypermethylation in most of the clones. The clone-specific variability in DNA methylation and DNA hypermethylation clearly show that healthy adult SCNT clones must be considered as epigenome variants.
doi:10.1089/cell.2009.0062
PMCID: PMC2993042  PMID: 20677931
6.  DNA Methylation-mediated Down-regulation of DNA Methyltransferase-1 (DNMT1) Is Coincident with, but Not Essential for, Global Hypomethylation in Human Placenta 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2010;285(13):9583-9593.
The genome of extraembryonic tissue, such as the placenta, is hypomethylated relative to that in somatic tissues. However, the origin and role of this hypomethylation remains unclear. The DNA methyltransferases DNMT1, -3A, and -3B are the primary mediators of the establishment and maintenance of DNA methylation in mammals. In this study, we investigated promoter methylation-mediated epigenetic down-regulation of DNMT genes as a potential regulator of global methylation levels in placental tissue. Although DNMT3A and -3B promoters lack methylation in all somatic and extraembryonic tissues tested, we found specific hypermethylation of the maintenance DNA methyltransferase (DNMT1) gene and found hypomethylation of the DNMT3L gene in full term and first trimester placental tissues. Bisulfite DNA sequencing revealed monoallelic methylation of DNMT1, with no evidence of imprinting (parent of origin effect). In vitro reporter experiments confirmed that DNMT1 promoter methylation attenuates transcriptional activity in trophoblast cells. However, global hypomethylation in the absence of DNMT1 down-regulation is apparent in non-primate placentas and in vitro derived human cytotrophoblast stem cells, suggesting that DNMT1 down-regulation is not an absolute requirement for genomic hypomethylation in all instances. These data represent the first demonstration of methylation-mediated regulation of the DNMT1 gene in any system and demonstrate that the unique epigenome of the human placenta includes down-regulation of DNMT1 with concomitant hypomethylation of the DNMT3L gene. This strongly implicates epigenetic regulation of the DNMT gene family in the establishment of the unique epigenetic profile of extraembryonic tissue in humans.
doi:10.1074/jbc.M109.064956
PMCID: PMC2843208  PMID: 20071334
Development Differentiation/Tissue; DNA/Methylation; DNA/Methyltransferase; Epigenetics; Gene Transcription; Extraembryonic Tissue; Placenta; Trophoblast
7.  Molecular analysis of wild and domestic sheep questions current nomenclature and provides evidence for domestication from two different subspecies. 
Complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control regions (CR) were sequenced and analysed in order to investigate wild sheep taxonomy and the origin of domestic sheep (Ovis aries). The dataset for phylogenetic analyses includes 63 unique CR sequences from wild sheep of the mouflon (O. musimon, O. orientalis), urial (O. vignei), argali (O. ammon) and bighorn (O. canadensis) groups, and from domestic sheep of Asia, Europe and New Zealand. Domestic sheep occurred in two clearly separated branches with mouflon (O. musimon) mixed into one of the domestic sheep clusters. Genetic distances and molecular datings based on O. canadensis CR and mtDNA protein-coding sequences provide strong evidence for domestications from two mouflon subspecies. Other wild sheep sequences are in two additional well-separated branches. Ovis ammon collium and O. ammon nigrimontana are joined with a specimen from the transkaspian Ust-Urt plateau currently named O. vignei arkal. Ovis ammon ammon, O. ammon darwini and O. vignei bochariensis represent a separate clade and the earliest divergence from the mouflon group. Therefore, O. musimon, O. vignei bochariensis and Ust-Urt sheep are not members of a 'moufloniform' or O. orientalis species, but belong to different clades. Furthermore, Ust-Urt sheep could be a hybrid population or an O. ammon subspecies closely related to O. ammon nigrimontana.
doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.1975
PMCID: PMC1690972  PMID: 12028771
8.  Combined analysis of data from two granddaughter designs: A simple strategy for QTL confirmation and increasing experimental power in dairy cattle 
A joint analysis of five paternal half-sib Holstein families that were part of two different granddaughter designs (ADR- or Inra-design) was carried out for five milk production traits and somatic cell score in order to conduct a QTL confirmation study and to increase the experimental power. Data were exchanged in a coded and standardised form. The combined data set (JOINT-design) consisted of on average 231 sires per grandsire. Genetic maps were calculated for 133 markers distributed over nine chromosomes. QTL analyses were performed separately for each design and each trait. The results revealed QTL for milk production on chromosome 14, for milk yield on chromosome 5, and for fat content on chromosome 19 in both the ADR- and the Inra-design (confirmed within this study). Some QTL could only be mapped in either the ADR- or in the Inra-design (not confirmed within this study). Additional QTL previously undetected in the single designs were mapped in the JOINT-design for fat yield (chromosome 19 and 26), protein yield (chromosome 26), protein content (chromosome 5), and somatic cell score (chromosome 2 and 19) with genomewide significance. This study demonstrated the potential benefits of a combined analysis of data from different granddaughter designs.
doi:10.1186/1297-9686-35-3-319
PMCID: PMC2732702  PMID: 12729552
QTL mapping; granddaughter design; combined analysis; QTL confirmation; dairy cattle

Results 1-8 (8)