ES cell differentiation system recapitulates the establishment of imprinted gene expression in a cell-type-specific manner

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Genomic imprinting is a phenomenon whereby monoallelic gene expression occurs in a parent-of-origin-specific manner. A subset of imprinted genes acquires a tissue-specific imprinted status during the course of tissue development, and this process can be analyzed by means of an in vitro differentiation system utilizing embryonic stem (ES) cells. In neurons, the gene Ube3a is expressed from the maternal allele only, and a paternally expressed non-coding, antisense RNA has been implicated in the imprinting process in mice and humans. Here, to study the genomic imprinting mechanism, we established F1 hybrid ES cells derived from two sub-species of Mus musculus and established an in vitro neuronal differentiation system in which neuron-specific imprinting of Ube3a was recapitulated. With this system, we revealed that the switch from biallelic expression to maternal, monoallelic expression of Ube3a occurs late in neuronal development, during the neurite outgrowth period, and that the expression of endogenous antisense transcript from the Ube3a locus is up-regulated several hundred-fold during the same period. Our results suggest that evaluation of the quality of ES cells by studying their differentiation in vitro should include evaluation of epigenetic aspects, such as a comparison with the genomic imprinting status found in tissues in vivo, in addition to the evaluation of differentiation gene markers and morphology. Our F1 hybrid ES cells and in vitro differentiation system will allow researchers to investigate complex end-points such as neuron-specific genomic imprinting, and our F1 hybrid ES cells are a useful resource for other tissue-specific genomic imprinting and epigenetic analyses.

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