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Am J Hum Genet. 2000 Oct;67(4):777-87. Epub 2000 Sep 5.

Mechanisms of genomic imprinting.

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  • 1Laboratory of Mammalian Genes and Development, NICHD/NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Imprinted genes represent a curious defiance of normal Mendelian genetics. Mammals inherit two complete sets of chromosomes, one from the mother and one from the father, and most autosomal genes will be expressed from both the maternal and the paternal alleles. Imprinted genes, however, are expressed from only one chromosome, in a parent-of-origin-dependent manner. Because silent and active promoters are present in a single nucleus, the differences in activity cannot be explained by transcription-factor abundance. Thus, transcription of imprinted genes represents a clear situation in which epigenetic mechanisms restrict gene expression and, therefore, offers a model for understanding the role of DNA modifications and chromatin structure in maintaining appropriate patterns of expression. Furthermore, because of their parent-of-origin-restricted expression, phenotypes determined by imprinted genes are susceptible not only to genetic alterations in the genes but also to disruptions in the epigenetic programs controlling regulation. Imprinted genes are often associated with human diseases, including disorders affecting cell growth, development, and behavior.

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