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Dev Cell. 2001 Dec;1(6):749-58.

DNA methylation is a critical cell-intrinsic determinant of astrocyte differentiation in the fetal brain.

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Department of Cell Fate Modulation, Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto 860-0811, Japan.


Astrocyte differentiation, which occurs late in brain development, is largely dependent on the activation of a transcription factor, STAT3. We show that astrocytes, as judged by glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) expression, never emerge from neuroepithelial cells on embryonic day (E) 11.5 even when STAT3 is activated, in contrast to E14.5 neuroepithelial cells. A CpG dinucleotide within a STAT3 binding element in the GFAP promoter is highly methylated in E11.5 neuroepithelial cells, but is demethylated in cells responsive to the STAT3 activation signal to express GFAP. This CpG methylation leads to inaccessibility of STAT3 to the binding element. We suggest that methylation of a cell type-specific gene promoter is a pivotal event in regulating lineage specification in the developing brain.

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