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Concept: Epigenetics


DNA methylation plays a critical role in the regulation and maintenance of cell-type specific transcriptional programs. Targeted epigenome editing is an emerging technology to specifically regulate cellular gene expression in order to modulate cell phenotypes or dissect the epigenetic mechanisms involved in their control. In this work, we employed a DNA methyltransferase Dnmt3a-Dnmt3L construct fused to the nuclease-inactivated dCas9 programmable targeting domain to introduce DNA methylation into the human genome specifically at the EpCAM, CXCR4 and TFRC gene promoters. We show that targeting of these loci with single gRNAs leads to efficient and widespread methylation of the promoters. Multiplexing of several guide RNAs does not increase the efficiency of methylation. Peaks of targeted methylation were observed around 25 bp upstream and 40 bp downstream of the PAM site, while 20-30 bp of the binding site itself are protected against methylation. Potent methylation is dependent on the multimerization of Dnmt3a/Dnmt3L complexes on the DNA. Furthermore, the introduced methylation causes transcriptional repression of the targeted genes. These new programmable epigenetic editors allow unprecedented control of the DNA methylation status in cells and will lead to further advances in the understanding of epigenetic signaling.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Epigenetics, DNA methylation


Epigenetic mechanisms are implicated in gene regulation and the development of different diseases. The epigenome differs between cell types and has until now only been characterized for a few human tissues. Environmental factors potentially alter the epigenome. Here we describe the genome-wide pattern of DNA methylation in human adipose tissue from 23 healthy men, with a previous low level of physical activity, before and after a six months exercise intervention. We also investigate the differences in adipose tissue DNA methylation between 31 individuals with or without a family history of type 2 diabetes. DNA methylation was analyzed using Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip, an array containing 485,577 probes covering 99% RefSeq genes. Global DNA methylation changed and 17,975 individual CpG sites in 7,663 unique genes showed altered levels of DNA methylation after the exercise intervention (q<0.05). Differential mRNA expression was present in 1/3 of gene regions with altered DNA methylation, including RALBP1, HDAC4 and NCOR2 (q<0.05). Using a luciferase assay, we could show that increased DNA methylation in vitro of the RALBP1 promoter suppressed the transcriptional activity (pā€Š=ā€Š0.03). Moreover, 18 obesity and 21 type 2 diabetes candidate genes had CpG sites with differences in adipose tissue DNA methylation in response to exercise (q<0.05), including TCF7L2 (6 CpG sites) and KCNQ1 (10 CpG sites). A simultaneous change in mRNA expression was seen for 6 of those genes. To understand if genes that exhibit differential DNA methylation and mRNA expression in human adipose tissue in vivo affect adipocyte metabolism, we silenced Hdac4 and Ncor2 respectively in 3T3-L1 adipocytes, which resulted in increased lipogenesis both in the basal and insulin stimulated state. In conclusion, exercise induces genome-wide changes in DNA methylation in human adipose tissue, potentially affecting adipocyte metabolism.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Epigenetics, RNA, Obesity, DNA methylation


Chromatin modifiers regulate lifespan in several organisms, raising the question of whether changes in chromatin states in the parental generation could be incompletely reprogrammed in the next generation and thereby affect the lifespan of descendants. The histone H3 lysine 4 trimethylation (H3K4me3) complex, composed of ASH-2, WDR-5 and the histone methyltransferase SET-2, regulates Caenorhabditis elegans lifespan. Here we show that deficiencies in the H3K4me3 chromatin modifiers ASH-2, WDR-5 or SET-2 in the parental generation extend the lifespan of descendants up until the third generation. The transgenerational inheritance of lifespan extension by members of the ASH-2 complex is dependent on the H3K4me3 demethylase RBR-2, and requires the presence of a functioning germline in the descendants. Transgenerational inheritance of lifespan is specific for the H3K4me3 methylation complex and is associated with epigenetic changes in gene expression. Thus, manipulation of specific chromatin modifiers only in parents can induce an epigenetic memory of longevity in descendants.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Methylation, Nucleosome


Here we report a unique cellular reprogramming phenomenon, called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), which requires neither nuclear transfer nor the introduction of transcription factors. In STAP, strong external stimuli such as a transient low-pH stressor reprogrammed mammalian somatic cells, resulting in the generation of pluripotent cells. Through real-time imaging of STAP cells derived from purified lymphocytes, as well as gene rearrangement analysis, we found that committed somatic cells give rise to STAP cells by reprogramming rather than selection. STAP cells showed a substantial decrease in DNA methylation in the regulatory regions of pluripotency marker genes. Blastocyst injection showed that STAP cells efficiently contribute to chimaeric embryos and to offspring via germline transmission. We also demonstrate the derivation of robustly expandable pluripotent cell lines from STAP cells. Thus, our findings indicate that epigenetic fate determination of mammalian cells can be markedly converted in a context-dependent manner by strong environmental cues.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Epigenetics, Developmental biology, Cell biology, DNA methylation


Environmental compounds are known to promote epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult onset disease in subsequent generations (F1-F3) following ancestral exposure during fetal gonadal sex determination. The current study was designed to determine if a mixture of plastic derived endocrine disruptor compounds bisphenol-A (BPA), bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) at two different doses promoted epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult onset disease and associated DNA methylation epimutations in sperm. Gestating F0 generation females were exposed to either the “plastics” or “lower dose plastics” mixture during embryonic days 8 to 14 of gonadal sex determination and the incidence of adult onset disease was evaluated in F1 and F3 generation rats. There were significant increases in the incidence of total disease/abnormalities in F1 and F3 generation male and female animals from plastics lineages. Pubertal abnormalities, testis disease, obesity, and ovarian disease (primary ovarian insufficiency and polycystic ovaries) were increased in the F3 generation animals. Kidney and prostate disease were only observed in the direct fetally exposed F1 generation plastic lineage animals. Analysis of the plastics lineage F3 generation sperm epigenome previously identified 197 differential DNA methylation regions (DMR) in gene promoters, termed epimutations. A number of these transgenerational DMR form a unique direct connection gene network and have previously been shown to correlate with the pathologies identified. Observations demonstrate that a mixture of plastic derived compounds, BPA and phthalates, can promote epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult onset disease. The sperm DMR provide potential epigenetic biomarkers for transgenerational disease and/or ancestral environmental exposures.

Concepts: DNA, Epigenetics, Sex, Testicle, Bisphenol A, Endocrine system, Ovary, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate


We tested the hypothesis that epigenetic mechanisms in the brain and the immune system are associated with chronic pain. Genome-wide DNA methylation assessed in 9 months post nerve-injury (SNI) and Sham rats, in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) as well as in T cells revealed a vast difference in the DNA methylation landscape in the brain between the groups and a remarkable overlap (72%) between differentially methylated probes in T cells and prefrontal cortex. DNA methylation states in the PFC showed robust correlation with pain score of animals in several genes involved in pain. Finally, only 11 differentially methylated probes in T cells were sufficient to distinguish SNI or Sham individual rats. This study supports the plausibility of DNA methylation involvement in chronic pain and demonstrates the potential feasibility of DNA methylation markers in T cells as noninvasive biomarkers of chronic pain susceptibility.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Brain, Histone, Epigenetics, Organism, DNA methylation, Premotor cortex


Bisphenol A (BPA) is a ubiquitous compound that is emerging as a possible toxicant during embryonic development. BPA has been shown to epigenetically affect the developing nervous system, but the molecular mechanisms are not clear. Here we demonstrate that BPA exposure in culture led to delay in the perinatal chloride shift caused by significant decrease in potassium chloride cotransporter 2 (Kcc2) mRNA expression in developing rat, mouse, and human cortical neurons. Neuronal chloride increased correspondingly. Treatment with epigenetic compounds decitabine and trichostatin A rescued the BPA effects as did knockdown of histone deacetylase 1 and combined knockdown histone deacetylase 1 and 2. Furthermore, BPA evoked increase in tangential interneuron migration and increased chloride in migrating neurons. Interestingly, BPA exerted its effect in a sexually dimorphic manner, with a more accentuated effect in females than males. By chromatin immunoprecipitation, we found a significant increase in binding of methyl-CpG binding protein 2 to the “cytosine-phosphate-guanine shores” of the Kcc2 promoter, and decrease in binding of acetylated histone H3K9 surrounding the transcriptional start site. Methyl-CpG binding protein 2-expressing neurons were more abundant resulting from BPA exposure. The sexually dimorphic effect of BPA on Kcc2 expression was also demonstrated in cortical neurons cultured from the offspring of BPA-fed mouse dams. In these neurons and in cortical slices, decitabine was found to rescue the effect of BPA on Kcc2 expression. Overall, our results indicate that BPA can disrupt Kcc2 gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms. Beyond increase in basic understanding, our findings have relevance for identifying unique neurodevelopmental toxicity mechanisms of BPA, which could possibly play a role in pathogenesis of human neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Nervous system, DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Histone, Epigenetics, Histone deacetylase


Cognitive abilities and disorders unique to humans are thought to result from adaptively driven changes in brain transcriptomes, but little is known about the role of cis-regulatory changes affecting transcription start sites (TSS). Here, we mapped in human, chimpanzee, and macaque prefrontal cortex the genome-wide distribution of histone H3 trimethylated at lysine 4 (H3K4me3), an epigenetic mark sharply regulated at TSS, and identified 471 sequences with human-specific enrichment or depletion. Among these were 33 loci selectively methylated in neuronal but not non-neuronal chromatin from children and adults, including TSS at DPP10 (2q14.1), CNTN4 and CHL1 (3p26.3), and other neuropsychiatric susceptibility genes. Regulatory sequences at DPP10 and additional loci carried a strong footprint of hominid adaptation, including elevated nucleotide substitution rates and regulatory motifs absent in other primates (including archaic hominins), with evidence for selective pressures during more recent evolution and adaptive fixations in modern populations. Chromosome conformation capture at two neurodevelopmental disease loci, 2q14.1 and 16p11.2, revealed higher order chromatin structures resulting in physical contact of multiple human-specific H3K4me3 peaks spaced 0.5-1 Mb apart, in conjunction with a novel cis-bound antisense RNA linked to Polycomb repressor proteins and downregulated DPP10 expression. Therefore, coordinated epigenetic regulation via newly derived TSS chromatin could play an important role in the emergence of human-specific gene expression networks in brain that contribute to cognitive functions and neurological disease susceptibility in modern day humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Brain, Histone, Epigenetics, RNA


DNA methylation is a chemical modification of cytosine bases that is pivotal for gene regulation, cellular specification and cancer development. Here, we describe an R package, methylKit, that rapidly analyzes genome-wide cytosine epigenetic profiles from high-throughput methylation and hydroxymethylation sequencing experiments. methylKit includes functions for clustering, sample quality visualization, differential methylation analysis and annotation features, thus automating and simplifying many of the steps for discerning statistically significant bases or regions of DNA methylation. Finally, we demonstrate methylKit on breast cancer data, in which we find statistically significant regions of differential methylation and stratify tumor subtypes. methylKit is available at

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Cancer, Breast cancer, Histone, Epigenetics, RNA, DNA methylation


High-throughput sequencing is increasingly being used in combination with bisulfite (BS) assays to study DNA methylation at nucleotide resolution. Although several programmes provide genome-wide alignment of BS-treated reads, the resulting information is not readily interpretable and often requires further bioinformatic steps for meaningful analysis. Current post-alignment BS-sequencing programmes are generally focused on the gene-specific level, a restrictive feature when analysis in the non-coding regions, such as enhancers and intergenic microRNAs, is required. Here, we present Genome Bisulfite Sequencing Analyser (GBSA-, a free open-source software capable of analysing whole-genome bisulfite sequencing data with either a gene-centric or gene-independent focus. Through analysis of the largest published data sets to date, we demonstrate GBSA’s features in providing sequencing quality assessment, methylation scoring, functional data management and visualization of genomic methylation at nucleotide resolution. Additionally, we show that GBSA’s output can be easily integrated with other high-throughput sequencing data, such as RNA-Seq or ChIP-seq, to elucidate the role of methylated intergenic regions in gene regulation. In essence, GBSA allows an investigator to explore not only known loci but also all the genomic regions, for which methylation studies could lead to the discovery of new regulatory mechanisms.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Epigenetics, RNA, Genomics, Methylation