Maintenance of genomic imprinting by G9a/GLP complex of histone methyltransferases in embryonic stem (ES) cells
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DNA methylation refers to an addition of a methyl group to the 5 position of the cytosine pyrimidine ring. As the best characterized epigenetic mark, DNA methylation plays an important role in a plethora of biological functions, including gene repression, genomic imprinting, silencing of retro-transposons and X chromosome inactivation. Genomic imprinting refers to the mono-allelic expression of certain genes according to their parent-of-origin. In mammals, the expression of imprinted genes is controlled by the cis-acting regulatory elements, termed imprinted control regions (ICRs). ICRs are marked by parent-of-origin-specific DNA methylation and loss of DNA methylation at ICRs also causes aberrant expression of imprinted genes. Therefore it is believed that the genomic imprinting is a DNA methylation-associated epigenetic phenomenon. As accurate expression of imprinted genes is essential for normal embryonic growth, energy homeostasis, development of the brain and behaviour and abnormal expression of imprinted genes leads to numerous clinical phenotype and human disorders, it is important to investigate how the imprinted DNA methylation is stably maintained in mammals. DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) are the main enzymes that play a in the establishment and maintenance of imprinted DNA methylation. In primordial germ cells (PGCs), DNMT3A and DNMT3L are involved in the establishment of imprinted DNA methylation. Whereas once established, the imprinted DNA methylation is maintained by DNMT1, DNMT3A and DNMT3B, but mainly by DNMT1. In addition, some other enzymes and DNA binding proteins also play a role in this process. One of the best examples is ZFP57, which forms a complex with KAP1 and SETDB1. ZFP57 maintains imprinted DNA methylation by recognizing a methylated hexa-nucleotide and recruits DNMTs to the ICRs in mammalian embryonic stem (ES) cells. Interestingly, DNA methylation analysis combined with promoter microarrays carried out in our lab suggested that imprinted DNA methylation is absent from some of the maternal ICRs in ES cells genetically null for G9a, a histone H3 lysine 9 methylase. This indicates that G9a might also play a role in the maintenance of imprinted DNA methylation. In my work, I found that the repressive H3K9me2 and imprinted DNA methylation are absent from several analysed ICRs in embryonic stem (ES) cells genetically null for either G9a or its partner histone methyltransferase GLP. A knockdown of G9a in ES cells reproduced these observations suggesting that G9a/GLP complex is required for the maintenance of imprinted DNA methylation. I also found that neither wild type nor catalytically inactive G9a can restore the loss of imprinted DNA methylation in G9a-/- ES cells. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) combined with bisulfite DNA sequencing showed that imprinted DNA methylation was present on the H3K9me2-marked allele indicating a direct role for G9a in maintenance of genomic imprinting. Using a pharmacological inhibitor of G9a and mutagenesis analyses, I found that G9a maintains the imprinted DNA methylation independently of its catalytic activity and recruits DNMTs to the ICRs via its ankyrin repeat domain. Dimerization of G9a with GLP is also essential for the maintenance of genomic imprinting in ES cells. In summary, in addition to establish H3K9me2, histone methyltransferases G9a and GLP also play an essential role in the maintenance of genomic methylation imprints in ES cells.