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.
Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic process through which genes are expressed in a parent-of-origin specific manner resulting in mono-allelic or strongly biased expression of one allele. For some genes, imprinted expression may be tissue-specific and reliant on CTCF-influenced enhancer-promoter interactions. The imprinting cluster is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders and comprises canonical imprinted genes, which are conserved between mouse and human, as well as brain-specific imprinted genes in mouse. The latter consist of , and , which have a maternal allelic expression bias of ∼75% in brain. Findings of such allelic expression biases on the tissue level raise the question of how they are reflected in individual cells and whether there is variability and mosaicism in allelic expression between individual cells of the tissue. Here we show that and are not imprinted in hippocampus-derived neural stem cells (neurospheres), while retains its strong bias of paternal allele expression. Upon analysis of single neural stem cells and differentiated neurons, we find not uniform, but variable states of allelic expression, especially for and . These ranged from mono-allelic paternal to equal bi-allelic to mono-allelic maternal, including biased bi-allelic transcriptional states. Even expression deviated from its expected paternal allele bias in a small number of cells. Although the cell populations consisted of a mosaic of cells with different allelic expression states, as a whole they reflected bulk tissue data. Furthermore, in an attempt to identify potential brain-specific regulatory elements across the locus, we demonstrate tissue-specific and general silencer activities, which might contribute to the regulation of its imprinted expression bias.
Transmission of epigenetic information between generations occurs in nematodes, flies and plants, mediated by specialised small RNA pathways, modified histones and DNA methylation. Similar processes in mammals can also affect phenotype through intergenerational or trans-generational mechanisms. Here we generate a luciferase knock-in reporter mouse for the imprinted Dlk1 locus to visualise and track epigenetic fidelity across generations. Exposure to high-fat diet in pregnancy provokes sustained re-expression of the normally silent maternal Dlk1 in offspring (loss of imprinting) and increased DNA methylation at the somatic differentially methylated region (sDMR). In the next generation heterogeneous Dlk1 mis-expression is seen exclusively among animals born to F1-exposed females. Oocytes from these females show altered gene and microRNA expression without changes in DNA methylation, and correct imprinting is restored in subsequent generations. Our results illustrate how diet impacts the foetal epigenome, disturbing canonical and non-canonical imprinting mechanisms to modulate the properties of successive generations of offspring.
Common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), the most prevalent symptomatic primary immunodeficiency, displays impaired terminal B-cell differentiation and defective antibody responses. Incomplete genetic penetrance and ample phenotypic expressivity in CVID suggest the participation of additional pathogenic mechanisms. Monozygotic (MZ) twins discordant for CVID are uniquely valuable for studying the contribution of epigenetics to the disease. Here, we generate a single-cell epigenomics and transcriptomics census of naïve-to-memory B cell differentiation in a CVID-discordant MZ twin pair. Our analysis identifies DNA methylation, chromatin accessibility and transcriptional defects in memory B-cells mirroring defective cell-cell communication upon activation. These findings are validated in a cohort of CVID patients and healthy donors. Our findings provide a comprehensive multi-omics map of alterations in naïve-to-memory B-cell transition in CVID and indicate links between the epigenome and immune cell cross-talk. Our resource, publicly available at the Human Cell Atlas, gives insight into future diagnosis and treatments of CVID patients.
Tweets from the Kelsey Lab