As well as genetic information, the egg and sperm also contribute epigenetic annotations that may influence gene activity after fertilisation. These annotations may be direct modifications of the DNA bases or of the proteins around which the DNA is wrapped into chromatin. Our goal is to understand whether, through epigenetics, factors such as a mother’s age or diet have consequences on the health of a child.
We examine how epigenetic states are set up in oocytes – or egg cells – and influence gene expression in the embryo. For example, repressive chromatin marks in oocytes lead to long-term silencing of genes inherited from the mother, particularly in cells that will form the placenta. We are also interested in how variations in DNA methylation come about in oocytes and whether we can use this variation as a marker for oocyte quality and embryo potential. To investigate these questions, we develop methods to profile epigenetic information in very small numbers of cells or even in single cells.
During pre-implantation stages of mammalian development, maternally stored material promotes both the erasure of the sperm and oocyte epigenetic profiles and is responsible for concomitant genome activation. Here, we have utilized single-cell methylome and transcriptome sequencing (scM&T-seq) to quantify both mRNA expression and DNA methylation in oocytes and a developmental series of human embryos at single-cell resolution. We fully characterize embryonic genome activation and maternal transcript degradation and map key epigenetic reprogramming events in developmentally high-quality embryos. By comparing these signatures with early embryos that have undergone spontaneous cleavage-stage arrest, as determined by time-lapse imaging, we identify embryos that fail to appropriately activate their genomes or undergo epigenetic reprogramming. Our results indicate that a failure to successfully accomplish these essential milestones impedes the developmental potential of pre-implantation embryos and is likely to have important implications, similar to aneuploidy, for the success of assisted reproductive cycles.
EHMT1 (also known as GLP) is a multifunctional protein, best known for its role as an H3K9me1 and H3K9me2 methyltransferase through its reportedly obligatory dimerization with EHMT2 (also known as G9A). Here, we investigated the role of EHMT1 in the oocyte in comparison to EHMT2 using oocyte-specific conditional knockout mouse models ( cKO, cKO, cDKO), with ablation from the early phase of oocyte growth. Loss of EHMT1 in cKO and cDKO oocytes recapitulated meiotic defects observed in the cKO; however, there was a significant impairment in oocyte maturation and developmental competence in cKO and cDKO oocytes beyond that observed in the cKO. Consequently, loss of EHMT1 in oogenesis results, upon fertilization, in mid-gestation embryonic lethality. To identify H3K9 methylation and other meaningful biological changes in each mutant to explore the molecular functions of EHMT1 and EHMT2, we performed immunofluorescence imaging, multi-omics sequencing, and mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteome analyses in cKO oocytes. Although H3K9me1 was depleted only upon loss of EHMT1, H3K9me2 was decreased, and H3K9me2-enriched domains were eliminated equally upon loss of EHMT1 or EHMT2. Furthermore, there were more significant changes in the transcriptome, DNA methylome, and proteome in cDKO than cKO oocytes, with transcriptional derepression leading to increased protein abundance and local changes in genic DNA methylation in cDKO oocytes. Together, our findings suggest that EHMT1 contributes to local transcriptional repression in the oocyte, partially independent of EHMT2, and is critical for oogenesis and oocyte developmental competence.
In their attempt to fulfill the wish of having children, women who suffer from fertility issues often undergo assisted reproductive technologies such as ovarian stimulation, which has been associated with adverse health outcomes and imprinting disorders in children. However, given the crucial role of exogenous hormone stimulation in improving human infertility treatments, a more comprehensive analysis of the potential impacts on DNA methylation in embryos following ovarian stimulation is needed. Here, we provide genome-wide DNA methylation profiles of blastocysts generated after superovulation of prepubertal or adult mice, compared with blastocysts derived from non-stimulated adult mice. Additionally, we assessed the impact of the in vitro growth and maturation of oocytes on methylation in blastocysts.