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1.  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
2.  Cohesin Is Required for Higher-Order Chromatin Conformation at the Imprinted IGF2-H19 Locus 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(11):e1000739.
Cohesin is a chromatin-associated protein complex that mediates sister chromatid cohesion by connecting replicated DNA molecules. Cohesin also has important roles in gene regulation, but the mechanistic basis of this function is poorly understood. In mammalian genomes, cohesin co-localizes with CCCTC binding factor (CTCF), a zinc finger protein implicated in multiple gene regulatory events. At the imprinted IGF2-H19 locus, CTCF plays an important role in organizing allele-specific higher-order chromatin conformation and functions as an enhancer blocking transcriptional insulator. Here we have used chromosome conformation capture (3C) assays and RNAi–mediated depletion of cohesin to address whether cohesin affects higher order chromatin conformation at the IGF2-H19 locus in human cells. Our data show that cohesin has a critical role in maintaining CTCF–mediated chromatin conformation at the locus and that disruption of this conformation coincides with changes in IGF2 expression. We show that the cohesin-dependent, higher-order chromatin conformation of the locus exists in both G1 and G2 phases of the cell cycle and is therefore independent of cohesin's function in sister chromatid cohesion. We propose that cohesin can mediate interactions between DNA molecules in cis to insulate genes through the formation of chromatin loops, analogous to the cohesin mediated interaction with sister chromatids in trans to establish cohesion.
Author Summary
Recent work has shown that cohesin, a protein best known for its role in holding sister chromatids together, and CTCF, a protein implicated in the formation of chromatin loops, localize to the same regions of DNA in mammalian genomes. This observation raised the intriguing possibility that cohesin might facilitate the role of CTCF in structuring chromatin. CTCF is well known for its role in regulating genomic imprinting at the IGF2-H19 gene locus. Imprinted genes are widely studied due to their roles in fetal growth and cancer and have the unusual property of expressing only one parental copy of the gene. CTCF is thought to regulate imprinting of IGF2 and H19 by enabling DNA to form loops that separate the genes into silent or active domains. In this paper we describe, for the first time, the looping structure of the human IGF2-H19 locus and show that cohesin stabilises CTCF–mediated DNA loops. Depletion of cohesin leads to disruption of long-range chromatin interactions and changes expression levels of the IGF2 gene. This work adds a new level of understanding of how cohesin can play a role in gene expression.
PMCID: PMC2776306  PMID: 19956766
3.  Somatically acquired hypomethylation of IGF2 in breast and colorectal cancer 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;17(17):2633-2643.
The imprinted insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) gene is expressed predominantly from the paternal allele. Loss of imprinting (LOI) associated with hypomethylation at the promoter proximal sequence (DMR0) of the IGF2 gene was proposed as a predisposing constitutive risk biomarker for colorectal cancer. We used pyrosequencing to assess whether IGF2 DMR0 methylation is either present constitutively prior to cancer or whether it is acquired tissue-specifically after the onset of cancer. DNA samples from tumour tissues and matched non-tumour tissues from 22 breast and 42 colorectal cancer patients as well as peripheral blood samples obtained from colorectal cancer patients [SEARCH (n=case 192, controls 96)], breast cancer patients [ABC (n=case 364, controls 96)] and the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer [EPIC-Norfolk (n=breast 228, colorectal 225, controls 895)] were analysed. The EPIC samples were collected 2–5 years prior to diagnosis of breast or colorectal cancer. IGF2 DMR0 methylation levels in tumours were lower than matched non-tumour tissue. Hypomethylation of DMR0 was detected in breast (33%) and colorectal (80%) tumour tissues with a higher frequency than LOI indicating that methylation levels are a better indicator of cancer than LOI. In the EPIC population, the prevalence of IGF2 DMR0 hypomethylation was 9.5% and this correlated with increased age not cancer risk. Thus, IGF2 DMR0 hypomethylation occurs as an acquired tissue-specific somatic event rather than a constitutive innate epimutation. These results indicate that IGF2 DMR0 hypomethylation has diagnostic potential for colon cancer rather than value as a surrogate biomarker for constitutive LOI.
PMCID: PMC2515372  PMID: 18541649

Results 1-3 (3)