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Genetics. 2012 Dec;192(4):1281-93. doi: 10.1534/genetics.112.143743. Epub 2012 Sep 28.

Targeting of >1.5 Mb of human DNA into the mouse X chromosome reveals presence of cis-acting regulators of epigenetic silencing.

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Department of Medical Genetics, Molecular Epigenetics Group, Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada.


Regulatory sequences can influence the expression of flanking genes over long distances, and X chromosome inactivation is a classic example of cis-acting epigenetic gene regulation. Knock-ins directed to the Mus musculus Hprt locus offer a unique opportunity to analyze the spread of silencing into different human DNA sequences in the identical genomic environment. X chromosome inactivation of four knock-in constructs, including bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) integrations of over 195 kb, was demonstrated by both the lack of expression from the inactive X chromosome in females with nonrandom X chromosome inactivation and promoter DNA methylation of the human transgene in females. We further utilized promoter DNA methylation to assess the inactivation status of 74 human reporter constructs comprising >1.5 Mb of DNA. Of the 47 genes examined, only the PHB gene showed female DNA hypomethylation approaching the level seen in males, and escape from X chromosome inactivation was verified by demonstration of expression from the inactive X chromosome. Integration of PHB resulted in lower DNA methylation of the flanking HPRT promoter in females, suggesting the action of a dominant cis-acting escape element. Female-specific DNA hypermethylation of CpG islands not associated with promoters implies a widespread imposition of DNA methylation during X chromosome inactivation; yet transgenes demonstrated differential capacities to accumulate DNA methylation when integrated into the identical location on the inactive X chromosome, suggesting additional cis-acting sequence effects. As only one of the human transgenes analyzed escaped X chromosome inactivation, we conclude that elements permitting ongoing expression from the inactive X are rare in the human genome.

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