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EMBO J. 1997 Nov 3;16(21):6510-20.

Embryonic germ cells induce epigenetic reprogramming of somatic nucleus in hybrid cells.

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Wellcome/CRC Institute of Cancer and Developmental Biology, and Physiological Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK.


Genomic reprogramming of primordial germ cells (PGCs), which includes genome-wide demethylation, prevents aberrant epigenetic modifications from being transmitted to subsequent generations. This process also ensures that homologous chromosomes first acquire an identical epigenetic status before an appropriate switch in the imprintable loci in the female and male germ lines. Embryonic germ (EG) cells have a similar epigenotype to PGCs from which they are derived. We used EG cells to investigate the mechanism of epigenetic modifications in the germ line by analysing the effects on a somatic nucleus in the EG-thymic lymphocyte hybrid cells. There were striking changes in methylation of the somatic nucleus, resulting in demethylation of several imprinted and non-imprinted genes. These epigenetic modifications were heritable and affected gene expression as judged by re-activation of the silent maternal allele of Peg1/Mest imprinted gene in the somatic nucleus. This remarkable change in the epigenotype of the somatic nucleus is consistent with the observed pluripotency of the EG-somatic hybrid cells as they differentiated into a variety of tissues in chimeric embryos. The epigenetic modifications observed in EG-somatic cell hybrids in vitro are comparable to the reprogramming events that occur during germ cell development.

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