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Mol Ther. 2007 Apr;15(4):810-7. Epub 2007 Feb 6.

Real-time fluorescence tracking of dynamic transgene variegation in stem cells.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


Transgene variegation is caused by epigenetic switching between expressing and silent states. gamma-retrovirus vectors can be variegated in stem cells, but the dynamics of epigenetic remodeling during transgene variegation are unknown. Here, we measured variegated enhanced green fluorescent protein gamma-retrovirus expression over 4 days in individual embryonic stem cells while tracking cells in order to create expression lineage trees: 56 colony founder cells and their progeny were tracked over seven generations. Nineteen lineages produced synchronized inheritable trajectories of transgene silencing or reactivation, indicative of epigenetic remodeling with long-term stable inheritance. Short-term fluctuations in fluorescence intensity were also observed, which contributed low-amplitude variation to transgene expression level. These two processes have different frequencies and inheritability, but together contribute to variegated transgene expression. Inhibition of DNA methylation with 5-azacytidine eliminated long-term transgene silencing over 4 days, but short-term fluctuations continued. Our approach applies real-time imaging technology to track the long-term dynamics of transgene expression to investigate the timing and expression patterns leading to variegation.

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