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Imprinting mechanisms

Constância, Miguel and Pickard, Benjamin and Kelsey, Gavin and Reik, Wolf (1998) Imprinting mechanisms. Genome Research, 8 (9). pp. 881-900. ISSN 1088-9051

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A number of recent studies have provided new insights into mechanisms that regulate genomic imprinting in the mammalian genome. Regions of allele-specific differential methylation (DMRs) are present in all imprinted genes examined. Differential methylation is erased in germ cells at an early stage of their development, and germ-line-specific methylation imprints in DMRs are reestablished around the time of birth. After fertilization, differential methylation is retained in core DMRs despite genome-wide demethylation and de novo methylation during preimplantation and early postimplantation stages. Direct repeats near CG-rich DMRs may be involved in the establishment and maintenance of allele-specific methylation patterns. Imprinted genes tend to be clustered; one important component of clustering is enhancer competition, whereby promoters of linked imprinted genes compete for access to enhancers. Regional organization and spreading of the epigenotype during development is also important and depends on DMRs and imprinting centers. The mechanism of cis spreading of DNA methylation is not known, but precedent is provided by the Xist RNA, which results in X chromosome inactivation in cis. Reading of the somatic imprints could be carried out by transcription factors that are sensitive to methylation, or by methyl-cytosine-binding proteins that are involved in transcriptional repression through chromatin remodeling.