Reprogramming of histone methylation controls the differentiation of monocytes into macrophages

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Subset heterogeneity of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS) is controlled by defined transcriptional networks and programs; however, the dynamic establishment of programs that control broad, orchestrated expression of transcription factors (TFs) during the progression of monocyte-into-phagocyte (MP) differentiation remains largely unexplored. By using chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, we show the extensive trimethylation of histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4me3) as well as histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27me3) occupancy with broad footprints at the promoters of MP differentiation-related TFs, such as HOXA and FOXO genes, KLF4, IRF8 and others. The rapid repression of HOXA genes was closely associated with the MP differentiation program. H3K4me3 participates in regulating HOXA genes at mild and terminal differentiation periods, while H3K27me3 maintains low-level expression of HOXA genes at phagocytic maintenance periods. Furthermore, the reprogramming of H3K27me3 plays a major role in the up-regulation of KLF4 and FOXO genes during MP differentiation. Importantly, the pharmacological inhibition of H3K4me3 and/or H3K27me3 strikingly promotes the differentiation programs of THP-1 and K562 cells. Together, these findings elucidate mechanisms crucial to the dynamic establishment of epigenetic memory, which is central to the maintenance of the MP differentiation blockade.

Immune cell differentiation is thought to be regulated in part by epigenetic mechanisms. Jin and colleagues now use genome-wide approaches to investigate changes in histone methylation patterns during the differentiation of monocytes into macrophages. They report that differentiation correlates with trimethylation of histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4me3) and histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27me3) in the promoters of differentiation-related transcription factors. Pharmacological inhibition of H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 interfered with monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation.

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