H3K27me and PRC2 transmit a memory of repression across generations and during development

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Science  19 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6203, pp. 1515-1518
DOI: 10.1126/science.1255023

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Establishing memory of gene repression

Although cells in the body contain the same DNA content, they can display widely varying form and function among tissues. This comes about by differential gene regulation and by establishing a type of gene expression memory that is passed down during cell division to daughter cells. Gaydos et al. report that in nematodes, both sperm and oocytes transmit a memory of chromatin repression to embryos in the form of modified histones. During DNA replication, modified histones are passed to daughter chromatids to provide chromatin memory for a few cell divisions. Histone-modifying enzymes replenish histone modifications and provide long-term chromatin memory.

Science, this issue p. 1515


For proper development, cells must retain patterns of gene expression and repression through cell division. Repression via methylation of histone H3 on Lys27 (H3K27me) by Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) is conserved, but its transmission is not well understood. Our studies suggest that PRC2 represses the X chromosomes in Caenorhabditis elegans germ cells, and this repression is transmitted to embryos by both sperm and oocytes. By generating embryos containing some chromosomes with and some without H3K27me, we show that, without PRC2, H3K27me is transmitted to daughter chromatids through several rounds of cell division. In embryos with PRC2, a mosaic H3K27me pattern persists through embryogenesis. These results demonstrate that H3K27me and PRC2 each contribute to epigenetically transmitting the memory of repression across generations and during development.

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