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Dev Biol. 2007 Jul 15;307(2):368-79. Epub 2007 May 8.

Developmental acquisition of genome-wide DNA methylation occurs prior to meiosis in male germ cells.

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Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


The development of germ cells is a highly ordered process that begins during fetal growth and is completed in the adult. Epigenetic modifications that occur in germ cells are important for germ cell function and for post-fertilization embryonic development. We have previously shown that male germ cells in the adult mouse have a highly distinct epigenetic state, as revealed by a unique genome-wide pattern of DNA methylation. Although it is known that these patterns begin to be established during fetal life, it is not known to what extent DNA methylation is modified during spermatogenesis. We have used restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS) and other techniques to examine DNA methylation at multiple sites across the genome during postnatal germ cell development in the mouse. Although a significant proportion of the distinct germ cell pattern is acquired prior to the type A spermatogonial stage, we find that both de novo methylation and demethylation occur during spermatogenesis, mainly in spermatogonia and spermatocytes in early meiotic prophase I. Alterations include predominantly non-CpG island sequences from both unique loci and repetitive elements. These modifications are progressive and are almost exclusively completed by the end of the pachytene spermatocyte stage. These studies better define the developmental timing of genome-wide DNA methylation pattern acquisition during male germ cell development.

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