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Dynamic instability of genomic methylation patterns in pluripotent stem cells

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Author(s): Ooi Steen KT | Wolf Daniel | Hartung Odelya | Agarwal Suneet | Daley George Q | Goff Stephen P | Bestor Timothy H

Journal: Epigenetics & Chromatin
ISSN 1756-8935

Volume: 3;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 17;
Date: 2010;
Original page

ABSTRACT
Abstract Background Genomic methylation patterns are established during gametogenesis, and perpetuated in somatic cells by faithful maintenance methylation. There have been previous indications that genomic methylation patterns may be less stable in embryonic stem (ES) cells than in differentiated somatic cells, but it is not known whether different mechanisms of de novo and maintenance methylation operate in pluripotent stem cells compared with differentiating somatic cells. Results In this paper, we show that ablation of the DNA methyltransferase regulator DNMT3L (DNA methyltransferase 3-like) in mouse ES cells renders them essentially incapable of de novo methylation of newly integrated retroviral DNA. We also show that ES cells lacking DNMT3L lose DNA methylation over time in culture, suggesting that DNA methylation in ES cells is the result of dynamic loss and gain of DNA methylation. We found that wild-type female ES cells lose DNA methylation at a much faster rate than do male ES cells; this defect could not be attributed to sex-specific differences in expression of DNMT3L or of any DNA methyltransferase. We also found that human ES and induced pluripotent stem cell lines showed marked but variable loss of methylation that could not be attributed to sex chromosome constitution or time in culture. Conclusions These data indicate that DNA methylation in pluripotent stem cells is much more dynamic and error-prone than is maintenance methylation in differentiated cells. DNA methylation requires DNMT3L in stem cells, but DNMT3L is not expressed in differentiating somatic cells. Error-prone maintenance methylation will introduce unpredictable phenotypic variation into clonal populations of pluripotent stem cells, and this variation is likely to be much more pronounced in cultured female cells. This epigenetic variability has obvious negative implications for the clinical applications of stem cells.
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