Male fertility is declining and an underlying cause may be due to environment-epigenetic interactions in developing sperm, yet nothing is known of how the epigenome controls gene expression in sperm development. Histone methylation and acetylation are dynamically regulated in spermatogenesis and are sensitive to the environment. Our objectives were to determine how histone H3 methylation and acetylation contribute to the regulation of key genes in spermatogenesis. A germ cell line, GC-1, was exposed to either the control, or the chromatin modifying drugs tranylcypromine (T), an inhibitor of the histone H3 demethylase KDM1 (lysine specific demethylase 1), or trichostatin (TSA), an inhibitor of histone deacetylases, (HDAC). Quantitative PCR (qPCR) was used to identify genes that were sensitive to treatment. As a control for specificity the Myod1 (myogenic differentiation 1) gene was analyzed. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) followed by qPCR was used to measure histone H3 methylation and acetylation at the promoters of target genes and the control, Myod1. Remarkably, the chromatin modifying treatment specifically induced the expression of spermatogonia expressed genes Pou5f1 and Gfra1. ChIP-qPCR revealed that induction of gene expression was associated with a gain in gene activating histone H3 methylation and acetylation in Pou5f1 and Gfra1 promoters, whereas CpG DNA methylation was not affected. Our data implicate a critical role for histone H3 methylation and acetylation in the regulation of genes expressed by spermatogonia--here, predominantly mediated by HDAC-containing protein complexes.
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