Genome-wide analyses reveal a role of Polycomb in promoting hypomethylation of DNA methylation valleys

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Background: Previous studies showed that the majority of developmental genes are devoid of DNA methylation at promoters even when they are repressed. Such hypomethylated regions at developmental genes are unusually large and extend well beyond proximal promoters, forming DNA methylation valleys (DMVs) or DNA methylation canyons. However, it remains elusive how most developmental genes can evade DNA methylation regardless of their transcriptional states. Results: We show that DMVs are hypomethylated in development and are highly conserved across vertebrates. Importantly, DMVs are hotspots of regulatory regions for key developmental genes and show low levels of deamination mutation rates. By analyzing a panel of DNA methylomes from mouse tissues, we identify a subset of DMVs that are dynamically methylated. These DMVs are strongly enriched for Polycomb-deposited H3K27me3 when the associated genes are silenced, and surprisingly show elevated DNA methylation upon gene activation. 4C-seq analyses indicates that Polycomb-bound DMVs form insulated and self-interacting chromatin domains. Further investigations show that DNA hypomethylation is better correlated with the binding of Polycomb than with H3K27me3. In support of a role of Polycomb in DMV hypomethylation, we observe aberrant methylation in DMVs in mouse embryonic stem cells deficient in the EED protein. Finally, we show that Polycomb regulates hypomethylation of DMVs likely through ten-eleven translocation (TET) proteins. Conclusions: We show that Polycomb promotes the hypomethylation of DMVs near key developmental genes. These data reveal a delicate interplay between histone modifiers and DNA methylation, which contributes to their division at distinct gene targets, allowing lineage-specifying genes to largely maintain DNA methylation-free at regulatory elements.




Li, Y., Zheng, H., Wang, Q., Zhou, C., Wei, L., Liu, X., … Xie, W. (2018). Genome-wide analyses reveal a role of Polycomb in promoting hypomethylation of DNA methylation valleys. Genome Biology, 19(1).

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