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Cell Cycle. 2004 Dec;3(12):1645-50. Epub 2004 Dec 4.

A dynamic switch in the replication timing of key regulator genes in embryonic stem cells upon neural induction.

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  • 1Lymphocyte Development Group, MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK.


Mammalian embryonic stem (ES) cells can either self-renew or generate progenitor cells that have a more restricted developmental potential. This provides an important model system to ask how pluripotency, cell commitment and differentiation are regulated at the level of chromatin-based changes that distinguish stem cells from their differentiated progeny. Here we show that the differentiation of ES cells to neural progenitors results in dynamic changes in the epigenetic status of multiple genes that encode transcription factors critical for early embryonic development or lineage specification. In particular, we demonstrate that DNA replication at a subset of neural-associated genes including Pax3, Pax6, Irx3, Nkx2.9 and Mash1 is advanced upon neural induction, consistent with increased locus accessibility. Conversely, many ES-associated genes including Oct4, Nanog, Utf1, Foxd3, Cripto and Rex1 that replicate early in ES cells switch their replication timing to later in S-phase in response to differentiation. Detailed analysis of the Rex1 locus reveals that delayed replication extends to a 2.8 Mb region surrounding the gene and is associated with substantial reductions in the level of histone H3K9 and H4 acetylation at the promoter. These results show that loss of pluripotency (and lineage choice) is associated with extensive and predictable changes in the replication timing of key regulator genes.

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