5-hydroxymethylcytosine represses the activity of enhancers in embryonic stem cells: a new epigenetic signature for gene regulation

Recent mapping of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) provides a genome-wide view of the distribution of this important chromatin mark. However, the role of 5hmC in specific regulatory regions is not clear, especially at enhancers.

Results: We found a group of distal transcription factor binding sites highly enriched for 5-hdroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), but lacking any known activating histone marks and being depleted for nascent transcripts, suggesting a repressive role for 5hmC in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs).

5-formylcytosine (5fC), which is known to mark poised enhancers where H3K4me1 is enriched, is also observed at these sites. Furthermore, the 5hmC levels were inversely correlated with RNA polymerase II (PolII) occupancy in mESCs as well as in fully differentiated adipocytes.

Interestingly, activating H3K4me1/2 histone marks were enriched at these sites when the associated genes become activated following lineage specification. These putative enhancers were shown to be functional in embryonic stem cells when unmethylated.

Together, these data suggest that 5hmC suppresses the activity of this group of enhancers, which we termed "silenced enhancers".

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that 5hmC has a repressive role at specific proximal and distal regulatory regions in mESCs, and suggest that 5hmC is a new epigenetic mark for silenced enhancers.

Published on: 2014-08-09

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