Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell reprogramming is a gradual epigenetic process that reactivates the pluripotent transcriptional network by erasing and establishing repressive epigenetic marks. In contrast to loci-specific epigenetic changes, heterochromatin domains undergo epigenetic resetting during the reprogramming process, but the effect on the heterochromatin ultrastructure is not known. Here, we characterize the physical structure of heterochromatin domains in full and partial mouse iPS cells by correlative electron spectroscopic imaging. In somatic and partial iPS cells, constitutive heterochromatin marked by H3K9me3 is highly compartmentalized into chromocentre structures of densely packed chromatin fibres. In contrast, chromocentre boundaries are poorly defined in pluripotent embryonic stem and full iPS cells, and are characterized by unusually dispersed 10 nm heterochromatin fibres in high Nanog-expressing cells, including pluripotent cells of the mouse blastocyst before differentiation. This heterochromatin reorganization accompanies retroviral silencing during conversion of partial iPS cells by MEK/GSK3 2i inhibitor treatment. Thus, constitutive heterochromatin is compacted in partial iPS cells but reorganizes into dispersed 10 nm chromatin fibres as the fully reprogrammed iPS cell state is acquired. © 2011 European Molecular Biology Organization.
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