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Dev Biol. 2002 Jan 1;241(1):172-82.

Dynamic reprogramming of DNA methylation in the early mouse embryo.

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Laboratory of Developmental Genetics and Imprinting, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge, CB2 4AT, United Kingdom.


Dynamic epigenetic modification of the genome occurs during early development of the mouse. Active demethylation of the paternal genome occurs in the zygote, followed by passive demethylation during cleavage stages, and de novo methylation, which is thought to happen after implantation. We have investigated these processes by using indirect immunofluorescence with an antibody to 5-methyl cytosine. In contrast to previous work, we show that demethylation of the male pronucleus is completed within 4 h of fertilisation. This activity is intricately linked with and not separable from pronucleus formation. In conditions permissive for polyspermy, up to five male pronuclei underwent demethylation in the same oocyte. Paternal demethylation in fertilised oocytes deficient for MBD2, the only candidate demethylase, occurred normally. Passive loss of methylation occurred in a stepwise fashion up to the morulae stage without any evidence of spatial compartmentalisation. De novo methylation was observed specifically in the inner cell mass (ICM) but not in the trophectoderm of the blastocyst and hence may have an important role in early lineage specification. This is the first complete and detailed analysis of the epigenetic reprogramming cycle during preimplantation development. The three phases of methylation reprogramming may have roles in imprinting, the control of gene expression, and the establishment of nuclear totipotency.

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