In mammalian development, epigenetic modifications, including DNA methylation patterns, play a crucial role in defining cell fate but also represent epigenetic barriers that restrict developmental potential. At two points in the life cycle, DNA methylation marks are reprogrammed on a global scale, concomitant with restoration of developmental potency. DNA methylation patterns are subsequently re-established with the commitment towards a distinct cell fate. This reprogramming of DNA methylation takes place firstly on fertilization in the zygote, and secondly in primordial germ cells (PGCs), which are the direct progenitors of sperm or oocyte. In each reprogramming window, a unique set of mechanisms regulates DNA methylation erasure and re-establishment. Recent advances have uncovered roles for the TET3 hydroxylase and passive demethylation, together with base excision repair (BER) and the elongator complex, in methylation erasure from the zygote. Deamination by AID, BER and passive demethylation have been implicated in reprogramming in PGCs, but the process in its entirety is still poorly understood. In this review, we discuss the dynamics of DNA methylation reprogramming in PGCs and the zygote, the mechanisms involved and the biological significance of these events. Advances in our understanding of such natural epigenetic reprogramming are beginning to aid enhancement of experimental reprogramming in which the role of potential mechanisms can be investigated in vitro. Conversely, insights into in vitro reprogramming techniques may aid our understanding of epigenetic reprogramming in the germline and supply important clues in reprogramming for therapies in regenerative medicine.
DNA methylation; germline; reprogramming; development; hydroxymethylation; epigenetics
The H19 large intergenic noncoding RNA (lincRNA) is one of the most highly abundant and conserved transcripts in mammalian development, being expressed in both embryonic and extraembryonic cell lineages, yet its physiological function is unknown. Here we show that miR-675, a microRNA (miRNA) embedded within H19’s first exon, is expressed exclusively in the placenta from the gestational time point when placental growth normally ceases, and placentas that lack H19 continue to grow. Overexpression of miR-675 in a range of embryonic and extraembryonic cell lines results in their reduced proliferation; targets of the miRNA are upregulated in the H19 null placenta, including the growth promoting Insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (Igf1r). Moreover, the excision of miR-675 from H19 is dynamically regulated by the stress response RNA binding protein HuR. These results suggest that H19’s main physiological role is in limiting growth of the placenta prior to birth, by regulated processing of miR-675. The controlled release of miR-675 from H19 may also allow rapid inhibition of cell proliferation in response to cellular stress or oncogenic signals.
Genome-wide DNA methylation reprogramming occurs in mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) and preimplantation embryos, but the precise dynamics and biological outcomes are largely unknown. We have carried out whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (BS-Seq) and RNA-Seq across key stages from E6.5 epiblast to E16.5 PGCs. Global loss of methylation takes place during PGC expansion and migration with evidence for passive demethylation, but sequences that carry long-term epigenetic memory (imprints, CpG islands on the X chromosome, germline-specific genes) only become demethylated upon entry of PGCs into the gonads. The transcriptional profile of PGCs is tightly controlled despite global hypomethylation, with transient expression of the pluripotency network, suggesting that reprogramming and pluripotency are inextricably linked. Our results provide a framework for the understanding of the epigenetic ground state of pluripotency in the germline.
► DNA demethylation in PGCs occurs in two phases ► Global loss of methylation reveals evidence for a passive demethylation mechanism ► Global methylation erasure coincides with expression of the pluripotency network ► VECs (variably erased CGIs) may act as carriers of transgenerational inheritance
Methylation of cytosine in DNA (5mC) is an important epigenetic mark that is involved in the regulation of genome function. During early embryonic development in mammals, the methylation landscape is dynamically reprogrammed in part through active demethylation. Recent advances have identified key players involved in active demethylation pathways, including oxidation of 5mC to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) and 5-formylcytosine (5fC) by the TET enzymes, and excision of 5fC by the base excision repair enzyme thymine DNA glycosylase (TDG). Here, we provide the first genome-wide map of 5fC in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells and evaluate potential roles for 5fC in differentiation.
Our method exploits the unique reactivity of 5fC for pulldown and high-throughput sequencing. Genome-wide mapping revealed 5fC enrichment in CpG islands (CGIs) of promoters and exons. CGI promoters in which 5fC was relatively more enriched than 5mC or 5hmC corresponded to transcriptionally active genes. Accordingly, 5fC-rich promoters had elevated H3K4me3 levels, associated with active transcription, and were frequently bound by RNA polymerase II. TDG down-regulation led to 5fC accumulation in CGIs in ES cells, which correlates with increased methylation in these genomic regions during differentiation of ES cells in wild-type and TDG knockout contexts.
Collectively, our data suggest that 5fC plays a role in epigenetic reprogramming within specific genomic regions, which is controlled in part by TDG-mediated excision. Notably, 5fC excision in ES cells is necessary for the correct establishment of CGI methylation patterns during differentiation and hence for appropriate patterns of gene expression during development.
Although somatic homologous pairing is common in Drosophila it is not generally observed in mammalian cells. However, a number of regions have recently been shown to come into close proximity with their homologous allele, and it has been proposed that pairing might be involved in the establishment or maintenance of monoallelic expression. Here, we investigate the pairing properties of various imprinted and non-imprinted regions in mouse tissues and ES cells. We find by allele-specific 4C-Seq and DNA FISH that the Kcnq1 imprinted region displays frequent pairing but that this is not dependent on monoallelic expression. We demonstrate that pairing involves larger chromosomal regions and that the two chromosome territories come close together. Frequent pairing is not associated with imprinted status or DNA repair, but is influenced by chromosomal location and transcription. We propose that homologous pairing is not exclusive to specialised regions or specific functional events, and speculate that it provides the cell with the opportunity of trans-allelic effects on gene regulation.
Increasing evidence suggests that chromatin modifications have important roles in modulating constitutive or alternative splicing. Here we demonstrate that the PWWP domain of the chromatin-associated protein Psip1/Ledgf can specifically recognize tri-methylated H3K36 and that, like this histone modification, the Psip1 short (p52) isoform is enriched at active genes. We show that the p52, but not the long (p75), isoform of Psip1 co-localizes and interacts with Srsf1 and other proteins involved in mRNA processing. The level of H3K36me3 associated Srsf1 is reduced in Psip1 mutant cells and alternative splicing of specific genes is affected. Moreover, we show altered Srsf1 distribution around the alternatively spliced exons of these genes in Psip1 null cells. We propose that Psip1/p52, through its binding to both chromatin and splicing factors, might act to modulate splicing.
The regulated processing of mRNAs by splicing of exons and introns has the potential to increase the information content of the genome. Various splicing factors have been identified whose binding to cis-acting sequences can influence whether an alternative exon is included or excluded (skipped) in the mature mRNA. However, increasing evidence suggests that the chromatin template also has an important role in modulating splicing. Here we identify a chromatin-associated protein Psip1/Ledgf that can bind to a histone modification enriched at active genes and that can also interact with other proteins involved in mRNA splicing. Loss of Psip1 reduces the chromatin association of specific splicing proteins and alters the pattern of alternative splicing. We propose that Psip1, through its binding to both chromatin and splicing factors, might act to modulate splicing.
Insulin-like growth factor I receptor (Igf1r) signaling controls proliferation, differentiation, growth, and cell survival in many tissues; and its deregulated activity is involved in tumorigenesis. Although important during fetal growth and postnatal life, a function for the Igf pathway during preimplantation development has not been described. We show that abrogating Igf1r signaling with specific inhibitors blocks trophectoderm formation and compromises embryo survival during murine blastocyst formation. In normal embryos total Igf1r is present throughout the membrane, whereas the activated form is found exclusively at cell contact sites, colocalizing with E-cadherin. Using genetic domain switching, we show a requirement for E-cadherin to maintain proper activation of Igf1r. Embryos expressing exclusively a cadherin chimera with N-cadherin extracellular and E-cadherin intracellular domains (NcEc) fail to form a trophectoderm and cells die by apoptosis. In contrast, homozygous mutant embryos expressing a reverse-structured chimera (EcNc) show trophectoderm survival and blastocoel cavitation, indicating a crucial and non-substitutable role of the E-cadherin ectodomain for these processes. Strikingly, blastocyst formation can be rescued in homozygous NcEc embryos by restoring Igf1r signaling, which enhances cell survival. Hence, perturbation of E-cadherin extracellular integrity, independent of its cell-adhesion function, blocked Igf1r signaling and induced cell death in the trophectoderm. Our results reveal an important and yet undiscovered function of Igf1r during preimplantation development mediated by a unique physical interaction between Igf1r and E-cadherin indispensable for proper receptor activation and anti-apoptotic signaling. We provide novel insights into how ligand-dependent Igf1r activity is additionally gated to sense developmental potential in utero and into a bifunctional role of adhesion molecules in contact formation and signaling.
One of the most important steps during mammalian development is the formation of a blastocyst before implantation. Proper blastocyst development is fundamentally reliant on the function of the E-cadherin adhesion molecule, which cannot be replaced by another highly related member of the cadherin family. We have addressed the question of how E-cadherin unfolds its unique function during this central embryonic process. We generated mouse mutants that allow specific domain swapping of extra- and intracellular protein domains of E-cadherin with the corresponding portion of N-cadherin. Upon E-cadherin (Cdh1) depletion, apoptosis is induced in cells that are required to form the trophectoderm, the outer cells of a functional blastocyst. Uncoupling of the two E-cadherin domains demonstrated that specifically the presence of the extracellular domain is indispensable in providing essential survival cues. To establish a proper trophectoderm the insulin-like growth factor I receptor (Igf1r) is intimately connected to the E-cadherin–mediated suppression of apoptosis. By interaction of the two proteins Igf1r is efficiently activated to allow embryo survival, blastocyst formation, and implantation. This novel and adhesion-independent function of E-cadherin may serve as paradigm for bifunctionality of adhesion molecules and how they are particularly utilized to interpret signal transduction activities in specific cellular contexts.
5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine, approved by the FDA for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), is incorporated into the DNA of dividing cells where it specifically inhibits DNA methylation by forming covalent complexes with the DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs). In an effort to study the correlations between DNA methylation, nucleosome remodeling, and gene reactivation, we investigate the integrated epigenetic events that worked coordinately to reprogram the methylated and closed promoters back to permissive chromatin configurations after 5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine treatment. The ChIP results indicate that H2A.Z is deposited at promoter regions by the Snf2-related CBP activator protein (SRCAP) complex following DNA demethylation. According to our genome-wide expression and DNA methylation profiles, we find that the complete re-activation of silenced genes requires the insertion of the histone variant H2A.Z, which facilitates the acquisition of regions fully depleted of nucleosome as demonstrated by NOMe–seq (Nucleosome Occupancy Methylome–sequencing) assay. In contrast, SRCAP–mediated H2A.Z deposition is not required for maintaining the active status of constitutively expressed genes. By combining Hpa II digestion with NOMe–seq assay, we show that hemimethylated DNA, which is generated following drug incorporation, remains occupied by nucleosomes. Our data highlight H2A.Z as a novel and essential factor involved in 5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine–induced gene reactivation. Furthermore, we elucidate that chromatin remodeling translates the demethylation ability of DNMT inhibitors to their downstream efficacies, suggesting future therapeutic implications for chromatin remodelers.
Epigenetic changes, which include chemical modifications to the DNA and changes in the proteins that package DNA to fit into a cell, play an important role in gene expression regulation. The fact that a number of abnormal epigenetic changes that lead to the silencing of genes occur during tumorigenesis has prompted the design of epigenetic therapies. The ultimate goal of these therapies is to reverse the aberrant epigenetic modifications observed in cancer cells, thereby restoring cells to a “normal” state. 5-Aza-CdDR, a FDA approved drug for MDS treatment, reverses a chemical modification of the DNA resulting in gene reactivation. The data presented here show the importance of H2A.Z, a special DNA packaging protein variant, in the gene reactivation process induced by 5-Aza-CdR. The presence of H2A.Z facilitates the access of proteins at gene regulatory regions, which is a necessary step for gene re-expression. A better understanding of the events that follow 5-Aza-CdR treatment is a necessary step towards the design of combination and/or personalized epigenetic therapies.
Genome-wide dynamic changes in DNA methylation are indispensable for germline development and genomic imprinting in mammals. Here, we report single-base resolution DNA methylome and transcriptome maps of mouse germ cells, generated using whole-genome shotgun bisulfite sequencing and cDNA sequencing (mRNA-seq). Oocyte genomes showed a significant positive correlation between mRNA transcript levels and methylation of the transcribed region. Sperm genomes had nearly complete coverage of methylation, except in the CpG-rich regions, and showed a significant negative correlation between gene expression and promoter methylation. Thus, these methylome maps revealed that oocytes and sperms are widely different in the extent and distribution of DNA methylation. Furthermore, a comparison of oocyte and sperm methylomes identified more than 1,600 CpG islands differentially methylated in oocytes and sperm (germline differentially methylated regions, gDMRs), in addition to the known imprinting control regions (ICRs). About half of these differentially methylated DNA sequences appear to be at least partially resistant to the global DNA demethylation that occurs during preimplantation development. In the absence of Dnmt3L, neither methylation of most oocyte-methylated gDMRs nor intragenic methylation was observed. There was also genome-wide hypomethylation, and partial methylation at particular retrotransposons, while maintaining global gene expression, in oocytes. Along with the identification of the many Dnmt3L-dependent gDMRs at intragenic regions, the present results suggest that oocyte methylation can be divided into 2 types: Dnmt3L-dependent methylation, which is required for maternal methylation imprinting, and Dnmt3L-independent methylation, which might be essential for endogenous retroviral DNA silencing. The present data provide entirely new perspectives on the evaluation of epigenetic markers in germline cells.
In mammals, germ-cell–specific methylation patterns and genomic imprints are established throughout large-scale de novo DNA methylation in oogenesis and spermatogenesis. These steps are required for normal germline differentiation and embryonic development; however, current DNA methylation analyses only provide us a partial picture of germ cell methylome. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to generate comprehensive maps of DNA methylomes and transcriptomes at single base resolution for mouse germ cells. These methylome maps revealed genome-wide opposing DNA methylation patterns and differential correlation between methylation and gene expression levels in oocyte and sperm genomes. In addition, our results indicate the presence of 2 types of methylation patterns in the oocytes: (i) methylation across the transcribed regions, which might be required for the establishment of maternal methylation imprints and normal embryogenesis, and (ii) retroviral methylation, which might be essential for silencing of retrotransposons and normal oogenesis. We believe that an extension of this work would lead to a better understanding of the epigenetic reprogramming in germline cells and of the role for gene regulations.
Epigenetic research has been focused on cell-type-specific regulation; less is known about common features of epigenetic programming shared by diverse cell types within an organism. Here, we report a modified method for chromatin immunoprecipitation and deep sequencing (ChIP–Seq) and its use to construct a high-resolution map of the Drosophila melanogaster key histone marks, heterochromatin protein 1a (HP1a) and RNA polymerase II (polII). These factors are mapped at 50-bp resolution genome-wide and at 5-bp resolution for regulatory sequences of genes, which reveals fundamental features of chromatin modification landscape shared by major adult Drosophila cell types: the enrichment of both heterochromatic and euchromatic marks in transposons and repetitive sequences, the accumulation of HP1a at transcription start sites with stalled polII, the signatures of histone code and polII level/position around the transcriptional start sites that predict both the mRNA level and functionality of genes, and the enrichment of elongating polII within exons at splicing junctions. These features, likely conserved among diverse epigenomes, reveal general strategies for chromatin modifications.
Just as a genome sequence map is indispensible to genetic studies, an epigenome map is crucial for epigenetic research. This is especially true for a sophisticated genetic model such as Drosophila melanogaster, where the wealth of information on genetics and developmental biology awaits systematic epigenetic interpretation on a whole-genome scale. In this manuscript, we report a high-resolution map of key chromatin modifications in the Drosophila genome constructed by the ChIP–Seq approach. This map is derived from all cell types in the adult Drosophila weighted by their natural abundance. It contains key histone marks, HP1a and RNA polymerase II, mapped at 50-bp resolution throughout the genome and at 5-bp resolution for regulatory sequences of genes. It reveals striking features of chromatin modification and transcriptional regulation shared by major adult Drosophila cell types. We anticipate that this map and the salient chromatin modification landscapes revealed by this map should have broad utility to the fields of epigenetics, developmental biology, and stem cell biology.
Cellular differentiation entails reprogramming of the transcriptome from a
pluripotent to a unipotent fate. This process was suggested to coincide with a
global increase of repressive heterochromatin, which results in a reduction of
transcriptional plasticity and potential. Here we report the dynamics of the
transcriptome and an abundant heterochromatic histone modification,
dimethylation of histone H3 at lysine 9 (H3K9me2), during neuronal
differentiation of embryonic stem cells. In contrast to the prevailing model, we
find H3K9me2 to occupy over 50% of chromosomal regions already in stem
cells. Marked are most genomic regions that are devoid of transcription and a
subgroup of histone modifications. Importantly, no global increase occurs during
differentiation, but discrete local changes of H3K9me2 particularly at genic
regions can be detected. Mirroring the cell fate change, many genes show altered
expression upon differentiation. Quantitative sequencing of transcripts
demonstrates however that the total number of active genes is equal between stem
cells and several tested differentiated cell types. Together, these findings
reveal high prevalence of a heterochromatic mark in stem cells and challenge the
model of low abundance of epigenetic repression and resulting global basal level
transcription in stem cells. This suggests that cellular differentiation entails
local rather than global changes in epigenetic repression and transcriptional
Epigenetic modifications of DNA and bound histones are major determinants of cell
type–specific gene expression patterns. A prevalent model in stem cell
biology suggests that the loss of pluripotency entails global increase in
heterochromatin and coinciding shutdown of lineage unrelated genes. We performed
analysis of both H3K9 dimethylation pattern and the global transcriptome in an
advanced murine neuronal differentiation model. In this paradigm, we do not find
evidence for a global increase in heterochromatic H3K9 dimethylation or
reduction of transcriptome complexity as stem cells become terminally
differentiated post-mitotic neurons. This suggests that pluripotent embryonic
stem cells are not per se unique in regards to heterochromatin
abundance and transcriptional plasticity as compared to somatic cells. Instead,
focal changes in chromatin might help to stabilize cellular states at any
Epigenetic modifications of the genome are generally stable in somatic cells of multicellular organisms. In germ cells and early embryos, however, epigenetic reprogramming occurs on a genome-wide scale, which includes demethylation of DNA and remodeling of histones and their modifications. Mechanisms of genome-wide erasure of DNA methylation are being unraveled, which involve modifications to 5-methylcytosine (5mC) and DNA repair. Epigenetic reprogramming has important roles in imprinting, the natural as well as experimental acquisition of totipotency and pluripotency, control of transposons, and epigenetic inheritance across generations. Small RNAs and inheritance of histone marks may also contribute to epigenetic inheritance and reprogramming. Reprogramming occurs in flowering plants and in mammals and the similarities and differences illuminate developmental and reproductive strategies.
At the beginning of the third week of pregnancy, mouse fetuses with targeted disruption of their paternally-transmitted insulin-like growth factor 2 gene placental-specific transcripts have growth-restricted placentas but normal body weights due to upregulated placental nutrient transport. We assessed whether increased placental glucose transport rates were associated with raised maternal glucose concentrations by performing intraperitoneal glucose tolerance tests (ipGTT) in pregnant mice carrying knockout pups and comparing them with mice carrying genotype-matched phenotypically wild type pups. Mean ± SD body weights of affected pups were 95 ± 8% of control values at e16 and 73 ± 7% at e18. There were no differences in areas under the maternal ipGTT curves at either e16 (mean ± SD being 99.0 ± 9.1% of control values; P = .9) or e18 (91.4 ± 13.4%; P = .3), suggesting that effects on transplacental glucose transport in these mice are not mediated through changes in maternal glucose concentrations.
How epigenetic information is propagated during somatic cell divisions is still unclear but is absolutely critical for preserving gene expression patterns and cellular identity. Here we show an unanticipated mechanism for inheritance of DNA methylation patterns where the epigenetic mark not only recruits the catalyzing enzyme but also regulates the protein level, i.e. the enzymatic product (5-methylcytosine) determines the level of the methylase, thus forming a novel homeostatic inheritance system. Nucleosomes containing methylated DNA stabilize de novo DNA methyltransferases, DNMT3A/3B, allowing little free DNMT3A/3B enzymes to exist in the nucleus. Stabilization of DNMT3A/3B on nucleosomes in methylated regions further promotes propagation of DNA methylation. However, reduction of cellular DNA methylation levels creating more potential CpG substrates counter-intuitively results in a dramatic decrease of DNMT3A/3B proteins due to diminished nucleosome binding and subsequent degradation of the unstable free proteins. These data show an unexpected self-regulatory inheritance mechanism that not only ensures somatic propagation of methylated states by DNMT1 and DNMT3A/3B enzymes but also prevents aberrant de novo methylation by causing degradation of free DNMT3A/3B enzymes.
Proper inheritance of DNA methylation patterns is essential for preserving cellular identity and preventing malignant cellular transformation. In mammals, DNMT3A/3B, the de novo methyltransferases, establish the DNA methylation patterns during development and then maintain them in co-operation with the maintenance methyltransferase, DNMT1, through cell divisions. However, the mechanisms by which DNMT3A/3B assist DNMT1 in faithful inheritance of methylation patterns in somatic cells while guarding against aberrant de novo DNA methylation are still unclear. In this study, we present a novel principle of enzyme regulation where the levels of the catalyzing enzymes, DNMT3A/3B, are determined by the level of their own enzymatic product, i.e. 5-methylcytosine itself. Through biochemical analyses, we have shown that binding of DNMT3A/3B to nucleosomes with methylated DNA stabilizes these proteins, enabling faithful propagation of methylation patterns through cell divisions. However, reduction in DNA methylation results in diminished nucleosome binding of DNMT3A/3B and subsequent degradation of the free DNMT3A/3B proteins. This novel self-regulatory inheritance mechanism not only ensures faithful somatic propagation of methylated states but also prevents aberrant de novo methylation by causing degradation of free DNMT3A/3B enzymes.
In somatic cells of female placental mammals, one of the two X chromosomes is transcriptionally silenced to accomplish an equal dose of X-encoded gene products in males and females. Initiation of random X chromosome inactivation (XCI) is thought to be regulated by X-encoded activators and autosomally encoded suppressors controlling Xist. Spreading of Xist RNA leads to silencing of the X chromosome in cis. Here, we demonstrate that the dose dependent X-encoded XCI activator RNF12/RLIM acts in trans and activates Xist. We did not find evidence for RNF12-mediated regulation of XCI through Tsix or the Xist intron 1 region, which are both known to be involved in inhibition of Xist. In addition, we found that Xist intron 1, which contains a pluripotency factor binding site, is not required for suppression of Xist in undifferentiated ES cells. Analysis of female Rnf12−/− knockout ES cells showed that RNF12 is essential for initiation of XCI and is mainly involved in the regulation of Xist. We conclude that RNF12 is an indispensable factor in up-regulation of Xist transcription, thereby leading to initiation of random XCI.
In all placental mammals, the males have only one X chromosome per diploid genome, as compared to the females who have two copies of this relatively large chromosome, carrying more than 1,000 genes. Hence, the evolution of the heterologous XY sex chromosome pair has resulted in an inevitable need for gene dosage compensation between males and females. This is achieved at the whole-chromosome level, by transcriptional silencing of one of the two X chromosomes in female somatic cells. Initiation of X chromosome inactivation (XCI) is regulated by X-encoded activators and autosomally encoded suppressors controlling Xist gene transcription. Spreading of Xist RNA in cis leads to silencing of one of the X chromosomes. Previously, we obtained evidence that the X-encoded E3 ubiquitin ligase RNF12 (RLIM) is a dose-dependent XCI activator. Here, we demonstrate that RNF12 exerts its action in trans and find that RNF12 regulates XCI through activation of transcription from the Xist promoter. Furthermore, analysis of female Rnf12−/− knockout ES cells shows that RNF12 is essential for initiation of XCI and that loss of RNF12 resulted in pronounced and exclusive down-regulation of Xist. It is concluded that RNF12 is an indispensable factor in Xist transcription and activation of XCI.
We have hypothesized that variation in imprinted growth-promoting fetal genes may affect maternal glucose concentrations in pregnancy. To test this hypothesis we evaluated the effects of fetal disruption of murine H19Δ13 on maternal glucose concentrations in pregnancy.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
Experimental mice were pregnant females that had inherited the disrupted H19Δ13 from their fathers and were therefore phenotypically wild type due to imprinting; approximately half of their litters were null for H19Δ13 through maternal inheritance of the disrupted gene. In control mice approximately half the litter paternally inherited the disrupted H19Δ13, so the pups were either genetically wild type or phenotypically wild type due to imprinting. Blood glucose concentrations were assessed by intraperitoneal glucose tolerance tests on days 1, 16, and 18 of pregnancy.
There were no differences in the glucose concentrations of control and experimental pregnant mice at day 1. However, at day 16 mothers carrying H19Δ13-null pups had a significantly higher area under the glucose tolerance test curves than controls (1,845 ± 378 vs. 1,386 ± 107 mmol · min · l−1 [P = 0.01]) in association with increasing pregnancy-related insulin resistance. Although this difference lessened toward term, overall, mothers of maternally inherited H19Δ13 mutants had significantly higher glucose concentrations during the last trimester (1,602 ± 321 [n = 17] vs. 1,359 ± 147 [n = 18] mmol · min · l−1 [P = 0.009]).
This study provides evidence that maternal glucose concentrations in pregnant mice can be affected by targeted disruption of fetal H19Δ13. This implies that variable fetal IGF2 expression could affect risk for gestational diabetes.
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.
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.
Analysis across the genome of patterns of DNA methylation reveals a rich landscape of allele-specific epigenetic modification and consequent effects on allele-specific gene expression.
DNA methylation plays an important role in biological processes in human health and disease. Recent technological advances allow unbiased whole-genome DNA methylation (methylome) analysis to be carried out on human cells. Using whole-genome bisulfite sequencing at 24.7-fold coverage (12.3-fold per strand), we report a comprehensive (92.62%) methylome and analysis of the unique sequences in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from the same Asian individual whose genome was deciphered in the YH project. PBMC constitute an important source for clinical blood tests world-wide. We found that 68.4% of CpG sites and <0.2% of non-CpG sites were methylated, demonstrating that non-CpG cytosine methylation is minor in human PBMC. Analysis of the PBMC methylome revealed a rich epigenomic landscape for 20 distinct genomic features, including regulatory, protein-coding, non-coding, RNA-coding, and repeat sequences. Integration of our methylome data with the YH genome sequence enabled a first comprehensive assessment of allele-specific methylation (ASM) between the two haploid methylomes of any individual and allowed the identification of 599 haploid differentially methylated regions (hDMRs) covering 287 genes. Of these, 76 genes had hDMRs within 2 kb of their transcriptional start sites of which >80% displayed allele-specific expression (ASE). These data demonstrate that ASM is a recurrent phenomenon and is highly correlated with ASE in human PBMCs. Together with recently reported similar studies, our study provides a comprehensive resource for future epigenomic research and confirms new sequencing technology as a paradigm for large-scale epigenomics studies.
Epigenetic modifications such as addition of methyl groups to cytosine in DNA play a role in regulating gene expression. To better understand these processes, knowledge of the methylation status of all cytosine bases in the genome (the methylome) is required. DNA methylation can differ between the two gene copies (alleles) in each cell. Such allele-specific methylation (ASM) can be due to parental origin of the alleles (imprinting), X chromosome inactivation in females, and other as yet unknown mechanisms. This may significantly alter the expression profile arising from different allele combinations in different individuals. Using advanced sequencing technology, we have determined the methylome of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Importantly, the PBMC were obtained from the same male Han Chinese individual whose complete genome had previously been determined. This allowed us, for the first time, to study genome-wide differences in ASM. Our analysis shows that ASM in PBMC is higher than can be accounted for by regions known to undergo parent-of-origin imprinting and frequently (>80%) correlates with allele-specific expression (ASE) of the corresponding gene. In addition, our data reveal a rich landscape of epigenomic variation for 20 genomic features, including regulatory, coding, and non-coding sequences, and provide a valuable resource for future studies. Our work further establishes whole-genome sequencing as an efficient method for methylome analysis.
Epigenetic reprogramming including demethylation of DNA occurs in mammalian primordial germ cells (PGCs) and in early embryos, and is important for the erasure of imprints and epimutations, and the return to pluripotency1-9. The extent of this reprogramming and its molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. We previously showed that the cytidine deaminases Aid and Apobec1 can deaminate 5-methylcytosine in vitro and in E coli, and in the mouse are expressed in tissues in which demethylation occurs10. Here we profiled DNA methylation throughout the genome by unbiased bisulfite Next Generation Sequencing11-13 (BS-Seq) in wildtype and Aid deficient PGCs at E13.5. Wildtype PGCs revealed dramatic genome-wide erasure of methylation to a level below that of methylation deficient (Np95-/-) ES cells, with female PGCs being less methylated than male ones. By contrast, Aid deficient PGCs were up to three times more methylated than wildtype ones; this substantial difference occurred throughout the genome, with introns, intergenic regions and transposons being relatively more methylated than exons. Relative hypermethylation in Aid deficient PGCs was confirmed by analysis of individual loci in the genome. Our results reveal that erasure of DNA methylation in the germ line is a global process, hence limiting the potential for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Aid deficiency interferes with genome-wide erasure of DNA methylation patterns, suggesting that Aid has a critical function in epigenetic reprogramming and potentially in restricting the inheritance of epimutations in mammals.
CpG islands (CGIs) are vertebrate genomic landmarks that encompass the promoters of most genes and often lack DNA methylation. Querying their apparent importance, the number of CGIs is reported to vary widely in different species and many do not co-localise with annotated promoters. We set out to quantify the number of CGIs in mouse and human genomes using CXXC Affinity Purification plus deep sequencing (CAP-seq). We also asked whether CGIs not associated with annotated transcripts share properties with those at known promoters. We found that, contrary to previous estimates, CGI abundance in humans and mice is very similar and many are at conserved locations relative to genes. In each species CpG density correlates positively with the degree of H3K4 trimethylation, supporting the hypothesis that these two properties are mechanistically interdependent. Approximately half of mammalian CGIs (>10,000) are “orphans” that are not associated with annotated promoters. Many orphan CGIs show evidence of transcriptional initiation and dynamic expression during development. Unlike CGIs at known promoters, orphan CGIs are frequently subject to DNA methylation during development, and this is accompanied by loss of their active promoter features. In colorectal tumors, however, orphan CGIs are not preferentially methylated, suggesting that cancer does not recapitulate a developmental program. Human and mouse genomes have similar numbers of CGIs, over half of which are remote from known promoters. Orphan CGIs nevertheless have the characteristics of functional promoters, though they are much more likely than promoter CGIs to become methylated during development and hence lose these properties. The data indicate that orphan CGIs correspond to previously undetected promoters whose transcriptional activity may play a functional role during development.
In the decade since the sequence of the human genome was announced, efforts have been made to annotate all genes with their regulatory sequences. CpG islands are short regions containing the sequence CG at high density that map to regions controlling the expression of most human genes (known as promoters). Using a biochemical method, we have identified and mapped all CpG islands in the human and mouse genomes and find that over half are remote from known gene promoters—so-called “orphans.” Mice, which were thought to possess far fewer CpG islands than humans, turn out to have a very similar number. Surprisingly, orphan CpG islands in both species often mark hitherto unknown promoters. The activity of these novel promoters is particularly dynamic during normal development, as they are often silenced by DNA methylation. In colorectal cancers, however, aberrant DNA methylation affects all CpG islands equally.
The DNTM3A and DNMT3B de novo DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) are responsible for setting genomic DNA methylation patterns, a key layer of epigenetic information. Here, using an in vivo episomal methylation assay and extensive bisulfite methylation sequencing, we show that human DNMT3A and DNMT3B possess significant and distinct flanking sequence preferences for target CpG sites. Selection for high or low efficiency sites is mediated by the base composition at the −2 and +2 positions flanking the CpG site for DNMT3A, and at the −1 and +1 positions for DNMT3B. This intrinsic preference reproducibly leads to the formation of specific de novo methylation patterns characterized by up to 34-fold variations in the efficiency of DNA methylation at individual sites. Furthermore, analysis of the distribution of signature methylation hotspot and coldspot motifs suggests that DNMT flanking sequence preference has contributed to shaping the composition of CpG islands in the human genome. Our results also show that the DNMT3L stimulatory factor modulates the formation of de novo methylation patterns in two ways. First, DNMT3L selectively focuses the DNA methylation machinery on properly chromatinized DNA templates. Second, DNMT3L attenuates the impact of the intrinsic DNMT flanking sequence preference by providing a much greater boost to the methylation of poorly methylated sites, thus promoting the formation of broader and more uniform methylation patterns. This study offers insights into the manner by which DNA methylation patterns are deposited and reveals a new level of interplay between members of the de novo DNMT family.
The methylation of cytosine bases in DNA represents an extra layer of heritable biological information necessary for regulating gene expression and ensuring genomic stability in mammals. In this paper, we examine the function of the proteins responsible for laying down the initial DNA methylation patterns in the human genome. These proteins, called de novo DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs), comprise two active enzymes, DNMT3A and DNMT3B, and one stimulatory factor, DNMT3L. Our study clearly establishes that DNMT3A and DNMT3B do not methylate DNA at random but rather that they show strong and distinct preferences for their target sites in vivo. These preferences lead to the deposition of unique and reproducible patterns of methylation and may have contributed to shaping segments of the human genome. In contrast, we show that DNMT3L stimulates DNA methylation mostly at sites that are poorly methylated on their own, thus leading to patterns that are more uniform. This modulation is proposed to result from DNMT3L anchoring the DNA methylation machinery onto chromatin, the physiological form under which DNA exists in our cells. This study furthers our understanding of how genomic DNA methylation patterns are established in vivo.
Methylation of histone H3K36 in higher eukaryotes is mediated by multiple methyltransferases. Set2-related H3K36 methyltransferases are targeted to genes by association with RNA Polymerase II and are involved in preventing aberrant transcription initiation within the body of genes. The targeting and roles of the NSD family of mammalian H3K36 methyltransferases, known to be involved in human developmental disorders and oncogenesis, are not known. We used genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) to investigate the targeting and roles of the Caenorhabditis elegans NSD homolog MES-4, which is maternally provided to progeny and is required for the survival of nascent germ cells. ChIP analysis in early C. elegans embryos revealed that, consistent with immunostaining results, MES-4 binding sites are concentrated on the autosomes and the leftmost ∼2% (300 kb) of the X chromosome. MES-4 overlies the coding regions of approximately 5,000 genes, with a modest elevation in the 5′ regions of gene bodies. Although MES-4 is generally found over Pol II-bound genes, analysis of gene sets with different temporal-spatial patterns of expression revealed that Pol II association with genes is neither necessary nor sufficient to recruit MES-4. In early embryos, MES-4 associates with genes that were previously expressed in the maternal germ line, an interaction that does not require continued association of Pol II with those loci. Conversely, Pol II association with genes newly expressed in embryos does not lead to recruitment of MES-4 to those genes. These and other findings suggest that MES-4, and perhaps the related mammalian NSD proteins, provide an epigenetic function for H3K36 methylation that is novel and likely to be unrelated to ongoing transcription. We propose that MES-4 transmits the memory of gene expression in the parental germ line to offspring and that this memory role is critical for the PGCs to execute a proper germline program.
Germ cells transmit the genome from one generation to the next. The identity and immortality of germ cells are crucial for the perpetuation of species, yet the mechanisms that regulate these properties remain elusive. In C.elegans, a histone methyltransferase MES-4 is required for survival of the primordial germ cells. MES-4 methylates histone H3 at lysine 36 (H3K36), a modification previously linked to transcription elongation and involved in preventing aberrant transcription initiation within the body of genes. Surprisingly, our genome-wide analysis of MES-4 binding sites in C. elegans embryos revealed that MES-4 is capable of associating with genes that were expressed in the germ line of the parent worms but are no longer being actively transcribed in embryos. To our knowledge, this is the first example of transcription-uncoupled H3K36 methylation. We suggest that MES-4-generated H3K36 methylation serves an “epigenetic role,” by marking germline-expressed genes and by carrying the memory of gene expression from one generation of germ cells to the next.
Conditional knockout mouse strategies identify the histone methyltranferase MLL2 as a key player in epigenetic reprogramming of female gametes.
During gametogenesis and pre-implantation development, the mammalian epigenome is reprogrammed to establish pluripotency in the epiblast. Here we show that the histone 3 lysine 4 (H3K4) methyltransferase, MLL2, controls most of the promoter-specific chromatin modification, H3K4me3, during oogenesis and early development. Using conditional knockout mutagenesis and a hypomorph model, we show that Mll2 deficiency in oocytes results in anovulation and oocyte death, with increased transcription of p53, apoptotic factors, and Iap elements. MLL2 is required for (1) bulk H3K4me3 but not H3K4me1, indicating that MLL2 controls most promoters but monomethylation is regulated by a different H3K4 methyltransferase; (2) the global transcriptional silencing that preceeds resumption of meiosis but not for the concomitant nuclear reorganization into the surrounded nucleolus (SN) chromatin configuration; (3) oocyte survival; and (4) normal zygotic genome activation. These results reveal that MLL2 is autonomously required in oocytes for fertility and imply that MLL2 contributes to the epigenetic reprogramming that takes place before fertilization. We propose that once this task has been accomplished, MLL2 is not required until gastrulation and that other methyltransferases are responsible for bulk H3K4me3, thereby revealing an unexpected epigenetic control switch amongst the H3K4 methyltransferases during development.
It is well established that gametes and early mammalian embryos undergo extensive epigenetic changes, which are changes in phenotype or gene expression that do not entail changes in DNA sequence. However, the machinery responsible for epigenetic modification in these situations is poorly understood. In mice, we conditionally deleted the histone 3 lysine 4 (H3K4) methyltransferase Mll2, an enzyme that alters DNA structure and packaging, either in gametes or in somatic cells of the ovary and also produced a mouse hypomorph expressing low levels of MLL2. We show that MLL2 is required in oocytes during gametogenesis and is also needed as a maternally derived factor during early development. Oocytes deficient in Mll2 display decreased methylation of H3K4 (H3K4me3) and show abnormal maturation and gene expression, in particular of pro-apoptotic factors. In addition, we demonstrate that embryonic genome activation is compromised in the absence of Mll2. Together our results identify MLL2 as one of the key players in the epigenetic reprogramming required for female fertility in the mouse.
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.
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.