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EMBO J. 2000 Nov 1;19(21):5884-94.

Retrovirus vector silencing is de novo methylase independent and marked by a repressive histone code.

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Programs in Developmental Biology, and Cancer and Blood Research, Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X8, Toronto, Canada.


Retrovirus vectors are de novo methylated and transcriptionally silent in mammalian stem cells. Here, we identify epigenetic modifications that mark retrovirus-silenced transgenes. We show that murine stem cell virus (MSCV) and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vectors dominantly silence a linked locus control region (LCR) beta-globin reporter gene in transgenic mice. MSCV silencing blocks LCR hypersensitive site formation, and silent transgene chromatin is marked differentially by a histone code composed of abundant linker histone H1, deacetylated H3 and acetylated H4. Retrovirus-transduced embryonic stem (ES) cells are silenced predominantly 3 days post-infection, with a small subset expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein to low levels, and silencing is not relieved in de novo methylase-null [dnmt3a-/-;dnmt3b-/-] ES cells. MSCV and HIV-1 sequences also repress reporter transgene expression in Drosophila, demonstrating establishment of silencing in the absence of de novo and maintenance methylases. These findings provide mechanistic insight into a conserved gene silencing mechanism that is de novo methylase independent and that epigenetically marks retrovirus chromatin with a repressive histone code.

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