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Orphan CpG islands identify numerous conserved promoters in the mammalian genome.

PLoS genetics | Sep 23, 2010

CpG islands (CGIs) are vertebrate genomic landmarks that encompass the promoters of most genes and often lack DNA methylation. Querying their apparent importance, the number of CGIs is reported to vary widely in different species and many do not co-localise with annotated promoters. We set out to quantify the number of CGIs in mouse and human genomes using CXXC Affinity Purification plus deep sequencing (CAP-seq). We also asked whether CGIs not associated with annotated transcripts share properties with those at known promoters. We found that, contrary to previous estimates, CGI abundance in humans and mice is very similar and many are at conserved locations relative to genes. In each species CpG density correlates positively with the degree of H3K4 trimethylation, supporting the hypothesis that these two properties are mechanistically interdependent. Approximately half of mammalian CGIs (>10,000) are "orphans" that are not associated with annotated promoters. Many orphan CGIs show evidence of transcriptional initiation and dynamic expression during development. Unlike CGIs at known promoters, orphan CGIs are frequently subject to DNA methylation during development, and this is accompanied by loss of their active promoter features. In colorectal tumors, however, orphan CGIs are not preferentially methylated, suggesting that cancer does not recapitulate a developmental program. Human and mouse genomes have similar numbers of CGIs, over half of which are remote from known promoters. Orphan CGIs nevertheless have the characteristics of functional promoters, though they are much more likely than promoter CGIs to become methylated during development and hence lose these properties. The data indicate that orphan CGIs correspond to previously undetected promoters whose transcriptional activity may play a functional role during development.

Pubmed ID: 20885785 RIS Download

Mesh terms: Adult | Animals | Base Sequence | Chromatography, Affinity | Colorectal Neoplasms | Conserved Sequence | CpG Islands | DNA Methylation | Female | Genome | Histones | Humans | Lysine | Male | Mammals | Mice | Middle Aged | Organ Specificity | Promoter Regions, Genetic | Sequence Analysis, DNA | Transcription, Genetic | Young Adult

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It is now widely known that animals share many genes with humans and can suffer from the same diseases, for example diabetes or deafness. Investigating these diseases in animals can provide vital leads to understanding both their causes and ways to treat them in humans. This approach to medical research lies at the heart of work at the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit (MGU) at Harwell in Oxfordshire. In 1995 the MRC Radiobiology Unit was reconstituted to form two new units, the Radiation and Genome Stability Unit and the MGU. These opened in January 1996, together with the UK Mouse Genome Centre which is now part of MGU, making MRC Harwell a unique campus for multi-disciplinary genetics research. Since MGU's Director Steve Brown took the reins in 1996, the unit has dramatically expanded its scientific scope and increased its personnel from 40 to over 100. It now has 13 research programs encompassing molecular genetics, genomics, genetic manipulation and data analysis at all levels, from single genes to the whole genome. With a combination of cutting-edge facilities and expertise unrivaled in Europe, MGU Harwell has become firmly established as one of the world's leading academic centres for mouse genetics.

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