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Nat Cell Biol. 2006 Feb;8(2):195-202. Epub 2006 Jan 15.

The Polycomb group protein Eed protects the inactive X-chromosome from differentiation-induced reactivation.

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Department of Genetics and the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7264, USA.


The Polycomb group (PcG) encodes an evolutionarily conserved set of chromatin-modifying proteins that are thought to maintain cellular transcriptional memory by stably silencing gene expression. In mouse embryos that are mutated for the PcG protein Eed, X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) is not stably maintained in extra-embryonic tissues. Eed is a component of a histone-methyltransferase complex that is thought to contribute to stable silencing in undifferentiated cells due to its enrichment on the inactive X-chromosome in cells of the early mouse embryo and in stem cells of the extra-embryonic trophectoderm lineage. Here, we demonstrate that the inactive X-chromosome in Eed(-/-) trophoblast stem cells and in cells of the trophectoderm-derived extra-embryonic ectoderm in Eed(-/-) embryos remain transcriptionally silent, despite lacking the PcG-mediated histone modifications that normally characterize the facultative heterochromatin of the inactive X-chromosome. Whereas undifferentiated Eed(-/-) trophoblast stem cells maintained XCI, reactivation of the inactive X-chromosome occurred when these cells were differentiated. These results indicate that PcG complexes are not necessary to maintain transcriptional silencing of the inactive X-chromosome in undifferentiated stem cells. Instead, PcG proteins seem to propagate cellular memory by preventing transcriptional activation of facultative heterochromatin during differentiation.

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