Memory is a hallmark of adaptive immunity, wherein lymphocytes mount a superior response to a previously encountered antigen. It has been speculated that epigenetic alterations in memory lymphocytes contribute to their functional distinction from their naive counterparts. However, the nature and extent of epigenetic alterations in memory compartments remain poorly characterized. Here we profile the DNA methylome and the transcriptome of B-lymphocyte subsets representing stages of the humoral immune response before and after antigen exposure in vivo from multiple humans. A significant percentage of activation-induced losses of DNA methylation mapped to transcription factor binding sites. An additional class of demethylated loci mapped to Alu elements across the genome and accompanied repression of DNA methyltransferase 3A. The activation-dependent DNA methylation changes were largely retained in the progeny of activated B cells, generating a similar epigenetic signature in downstream memory B cells and plasma cells with distinct transcriptional programs. These findings provide insights into the methylation dynamics of the genome during cellular differentiation in an immune response.
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