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The molecular basis for stability of heterochromatin-mediated silencing in mammals

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Author(s): Hiragami-Hamada Kyoko | Xie Sheila Q | Saveliev Alexander | Uribe-Lewis Santiago | Pombo Ana | Festenstein Richard

Journal: Epigenetics & Chromatin
ISSN 1756-8935

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 14;
Date: 2009;
Original page

ABSTRACT
Abstract The archetypal epigenetic phenomenon of position effect variegation (PEV) in Drosophila occurs when a gene is brought abnormally close to heterochromatin, resulting in stochastic silencing of the affected gene in a proportion of cells that would normally express it. PEV has been instrumental in unraveling epigenetic mechanisms. Using an in vivo mammalian model for PEV we have extensively investigated the molecular basis for heterochromatin-mediated gene silencing. Here we distinguish 'epigenetic effects' from other cellular differences by studying ex vivo cells that are identical, apart from the expression of the variegating gene which is silenced in a proportion of the cells. By separating cells according to transgene expression we show here that silencing appears to be associated with histone H3 lysine 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3), DNA methylation and the localization of the silenced gene to a specific nuclear compartment enriched in these modifications. In contrast, histone H3 acetylation (H3Ac) and lysine 4 di or tri methylation (H3K4me2/3) are the predominant modifications associated with expression where we see the gene in a euchromatic compartment. Interestingly, DNA methylation and inaccessibility, rather than H3K9me3, correlated most strongly with resistance to de-repression by cellular activation. These results have important implications for understanding the contribution of specific factors involved in the establishment and maintenance of gene silencing and activation in vivo.

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