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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.  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
3.  Evaluation of Allelic Expression of Imprinted Genes in Adult Human Blood 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13556.
Imprinted genes are expressed from only one allele in a parent-of-origin dependent manner. Loss of imprinted (LOI) expression can result in a variety of human disorders and is frequently reported in cancer. Biallelic expression of imprinted genes in adult blood has been suggested as a useful biomarker and is currently being investigated in colorectal cancer. In general, the expression profiles of imprinted genes are well characterised during human and mouse fetal development, but not in human adults.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We investigated quantitative expression of 36 imprinted genes in adult human peripheral blood leukocytes obtained from healthy individuals. Allelic expression was also investigated in B and T lymphocytes and myeloid cells. We found that 21 genes were essentially undetectable in adult blood. Only six genes were demonstrably monoallelic, and most importantly, we found that nine genes were either biallelic or showed variable expression in different individuals. Separated leukocyte populations showed the same expression patterns as whole blood. Differential methylation at each of the imprinting control loci analysed was maintained, including regions that contained biallelically expressed genes. This suggests in some cases methylation has become uncoupled from its role in regulating gene expression.
We conclude that only a limited set of imprinted genes, including IGF2 and SNRPN, may be useful for LOI cancer biomarker studies. In addition, blood is not a good tissue to use for the discovery of new imprinted genes. Finally, lymphocyte DNA methylation status in the adult may not always be a reliable indicator of monoallelic gene expression.
PMCID: PMC2958851  PMID: 21042416
4.  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
5.  Transcript- and tissue-specific imprinting of a tumour suppressor gene 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;18(1):118-127.
The Bladder Cancer-Associated Protein gene (BLCAP; previously BC10) is a tumour suppressor that limits cell proliferation and stimulates apoptosis. BLCAP protein or message are downregulated or absent in a variety of human cancers. In mouse and human, the first intron of Blcap/BLCAP contains the distinct Neuronatin (Nnat/NNAT) gene. Nnat is an imprinted gene that is exclusively expressed from the paternally inherited allele. Previous studies found no evidence for imprinting of Blcap in mouse or human. Here we show that Blcap is imprinted in mouse and human brain, but not in other mouse tissues. Moreover, Blcap produces multiple distinct transcripts that exhibit reciprocal allele-specific expression in both mouse and human. We propose that the tissue-specific imprinting of Blcap is due to the particularly high transcriptional activity of Nnat in brain, as has been suggested previously for the similarly organized and imprinted murine Commd1/U2af1-rs1 locus. For Commd1/U2af1-rs1, we show that it too produces distinct transcript variants with reciprocal allele-specific expression. The imprinted expression of BLCAP and its interplay with NNAT at the transcriptional level may be relevant to human carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2666296  PMID: 18836209
The mouse is an established model organism for the study of genomic imprinting. Mice with genetic material originating from only one parent (e.g., mice with uniparental chromosomal duplications) or gene mutations leading to epigenetic deficiencies have proven to be particularly useful tools. In the process of our studies we have accumulated a large set of expression microarray measurements in samples derived from these types of mice. Here, we present the collation of these and third-party microarray data that are relevant to genomic imprinting into a Web Atlas of Murine genomic Imprinting and Differential EXpression (WAMIDEX: WAMIDEX integrates the most comprehensive literature-derived catalog of murine imprinted genes to date with a genome browser that makes the microarray data immediately accessible in annotation-rich genomic context. In addition, WAMIDEX exemplifies the use of the self-organizing map method for the discovery of novel imprinted genes from microarray data. The parent-of-origin-specific expression of imprinted genes is frequently limited to specific tissues or developmental stages, a fact that the atlas reflects in its design and data content.
PMCID: PMC2492384  PMID: 18398312
genomic imprinting; gene expression; microarray; uniparental duplication; DNA methylation; histone methylation; self-organizing map
7.  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
8.  G9a Histone Methyltransferase Contributes to Imprinting in the Mouse Placenta▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;28(3):1104-1113.
Whereas DNA methylation is essential for genomic imprinting, the importance of histone methylation in the allelic expression of imprinted genes is unclear. Imprinting control regions (ICRs), however, are marked by histone H3-K9 methylation on their DNA-methylated allele. In the placenta, the paternal silencing along the Kcnq1 domain on distal chromosome 7 also correlates with the presence of H3-K9 methylation, but imprinted repression at these genes is maintained independently of DNA methylation. To explore which histone methyltransferase (HMT) could mediate the allelic H3-K9 methylation on distal chromosome 7, and at ICRs, we generated mouse conceptuses deficient for the SET domain protein G9a. We found that in the embryo and placenta, the differential DNA methylation at ICRs and imprinted genes is maintained in the absence of G9a. Accordingly, in embryos, imprinted gene expression was unchanged at the domains analyzed, in spite of a global loss of H3-K9 dimethylation (H3K9me2). In contrast, the placenta-specific imprinting of genes on distal chromosome 7 is impaired in the absence of G9a, and this correlates with reduced levels of H3K9me2 and H3K9me3. These findings provide the first evidence for the involvement of an HMT and suggest that histone methylation contributes to imprinted gene repression in the trophoblast.
PMCID: PMC2223396  PMID: 18039842
9.  Genomic Imprinting of Dopa decarboxylase in Heart and Reciprocal Allelic Expression with Neighboring Grb10▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;28(1):386-396.
By combining a tissue-specific microarray screen with mouse uniparental duplications, we have identified a novel imprinted gene, Dopa decarboxylase (Ddc), on chromosome 11. Ddc_exon1a is a 2-kb transcript variant that initiates from an alternative first exon in intron 1 of the canonical Ddc transcript and is paternally expressed in trabecular cardiomyocytes of the embryonic and neonatal heart. Ddc displays tight conserved linkage with the maternally expressed and methylated Grb10 gene, suggesting that these reciprocally imprinted genes may be coordinately regulated. In Dnmt3L mutant embryos that lack maternal germ line methylation imprints, we show that Ddc is overexpressed and Grb10 is silenced. Their imprinting is therefore dependent on maternal germ line methylation, but the mechanism at Ddc does not appear to involve differential methylation of the Ddc_exon1a promoter region and may instead be provided by the oocyte mark at Grb10. Our analysis of Ddc redefines the imprinted Grb10 domain on mouse proximal chromosome 11 and identifies Ddc_exon1a as the first example of a heart-specific imprinted gene.
PMCID: PMC2223316  PMID: 17967881
10.  Distinct Methylation Changes at the IGF2-H19 Locus in Congenital Growth Disorders and Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(3):e1849.
Differentially methylated regions (DMRs) are associated with many imprinted genes. In mice methylation at a DMR upstream of the H19 gene known as the Imprint Control region (IC1) is acquired in the male germline and influences the methylation status of DMRs 100 kb away in the adjacent Insulin-like growth factor 2 (Igf2) gene through long-range interactions. In humans, germline-derived or post-zygotically acquired imprinting defects at IC1 are associated with aberrant activation or repression of IGF2, resulting in the congenital growth disorders Beckwith-Wiedemann (BWS) and Silver-Russell (SRS) syndromes, respectively. In Wilms tumour and colorectal cancer, biallelic expression of IGF2 has been observed in association with loss of methylation at a DMR in IGF2. This DMR, known as DMR0, has been shown to be methylated on the silent maternal IGF2 allele presumably with a role in repression. The effect of IGF2 DMR0 methylation changes in the aetiology of BWS or SRS is unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We analysed the methylation status of the DMR0 in BWS, SRS and Wilms tumour patients by conventional bisulphite sequencing and pyrosequencing. We show here that, contrary to previous reports, the IGF2 DMR0 is actually methylated on the active paternal allele in peripheral blood and kidney. This is similar to the IC1 methylation status and is inconsistent with the proposed silencing function of the maternal IGF2 allele. Beckwith-Wiedemann and Silver-Russell patients with IC1 methylation defects have similar methylation defects at the IGF2 DMR0, consistent with IC1 regulating methylation at IGF2 in cis. In Wilms tumour, however, methylation profiles of IC1 and IGF2 DMR0 are indicative of methylation changes occurring on both parental alleles rather than in cis.
These results support a model in which DMR0 and IC1 have opposite susceptibilities to global hyper and hypomethylation during tumorigenesis independent of the parent of origin imprint. In contrast, during embryogenesis DMR0 is methylated or demethylated according to the germline methylation imprint at the IC1, indicating different mechanisms of imprinting loss in neoplastic and non-neoplastic cells.
PMCID: PMC2268001  PMID: 18365005
11.  Chromosome-wide identification of novel imprinted genes using microarrays and uniparental disomies 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(12):e88.
Genomic imprinting refers to a specialized form of epigenetic gene regulation whereby the expression of a given allele is dictated by parental origin. Defining the extent and distribution of imprinting across genomes will be crucial for understanding the roles played by imprinting in normal mammalian growth and development. Using mice carrying uniparental disomies or duplications, microarray screening and stringent bioinformatics, we have developed the first large-scale tissue-specific screen for imprinted gene detection. We quantify the stringency of our methodology and relate it to previous non-tissue-specific large-scale studies. We report the identification in mouse of four brain-specific novel paternally expressed transcripts and an additional three genes that show maternal expression in the placenta. The regions of conserved linkage in the human genome are associated with the Prader–Willi Syndrome (PWS) and Beckwith–Wiedemann Syndrome (BWS) where imprinting is known to be a contributing factor. We conclude that large-scale systematic analyses of this genre are necessary for the full impact of genomic imprinting on mammalian gene expression and phenotype to be elucidated.
PMCID: PMC1524921  PMID: 16855283

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