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PLoS One. 2008 Sep 11;3(9):e3189. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003189.

Astrocyte-specific genes are generally demethylated in neural precursor cells prior to astrocytic differentiation.

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  • 1Laboratory of Genome Science, Biosignal Genome Resource Center, Institute for Molecular and Cellular Regulation, Gunma University, Maebashi, Japan.


Epigenetic changes are thought to lead to alterations in the property of cells, such as differentiation potential. Neural precursor cells (NPCs) differentiate only into neurons in the midgestational brain, yet they become able to generate astrocytes in the late stage of development. This differentiation-potential switch could be explained by epigenetic changes, since the promoters of astrocyte-specific marker genes, glial fibrillary acidic protein (Gfap) and S100beta, have been shown to become demethylated in late-stage NPCs prior to the onset of astrocyte differentiation; however, whether demethylation occurs generally in other astrocyctic genes remains unknown. Here we analyzed DNA methylation changes in mouse NPCs between the mid-(E11.5) and late (E14.5) stage of development by a genome-wide DNA methylation profiling method using microarrays and found that many astrocytic genes are demethylated in late-stage NPCs, enabling the cell to become competent to express these genes. Although these genes are already demethylated in late-stage NPCs, they are not expressed until cells differentiate into astrocytes. Thus, late-stage NPCs have epigenetic potential which can be realized in their expression after astrocyte differentiation.

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