Blastocyst-derived embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and gonad-derived embryonic germ cells (EGCs) represent two classic types of pluripotent cell lines, yet their molecular equivalence remains incompletely understood. Here, we compare genome-wide methylation patterns between isogenic ESC and EGC lines to define epigenetic similarities and differences. Surprisingly, we find that sex rather than cell type drives methylation patterns in ESCs and EGCs. Cell fusion experiments further reveal that the ratio of X chromosomes to autosomes dictates methylation levels, with female hybrids being hypomethylated and male hybrids being hypermethylated. We show that the X-linked MAPK phosphatase DUSP9 is upregulated in female compared to male ESCs, and its heterozygous loss in female ESCs leads to male-like methylation levels. However, male and female blastocysts are similarly hypomethylated, indicating that sex-specific methylation differences arise in culture. Collectively, our data demonstrate the epigenetic similarity of sex-matched ESCs and EGCs and identify DUSP9 as a regulator of female-specific hypomethylation.
The chromatin state of pluripotency genes has been studied extensively in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and differentiated cells, but their potential interactions with other parts of the genome remain largely unexplored. Here, we identified a genome-wide, pluripotency-specific interaction network around the Nanog promoter by adapting circular chromosome conformation capture sequencing. This network was rearranged during differentiation and restored in induced pluripotent stem cells. A large fraction of Nanog-interacting loci were bound by Mediator or cohesin in pluripotent cells. Depletion of these proteins from ESCs resulted in a disruption of contacts and the acquisition of a differentiation-specific interaction pattern prior to obvious transcriptional and phenotypic changes. Similarly, the establishment of Nanog interactions during reprogramming often preceded transcriptional upregulation of associated genes, suggesting a causative link. Our results document a complex, pluripotency-specific chromatin "interactome" for Nanog and suggest a functional role for long-range genomic interactions in the maintenance and induction of pluripotency.
BMI1 is required for the self-renewal of stem cells in many tissues including the lung epithelial stem cells, Bronchioalveolar Stem Cells (BASCs). Imprinted genes, which exhibit expression from only the maternally or paternally inherited allele, are known to regulate developmental processes, but what their role is in adult cells remains a fundamental question. Many imprinted genes were derepressed in Bmi1 knockout mice, and knockdown of Cdkn1c (p57) and other imprinted genes partially rescued the self-renewal defect of Bmi1 mutant lung cells. Expression of p57 and other imprinted genes was required for lung cell self-renewal in culture and correlated with repair of lung epithelial cell injury in vivo. Our data suggest that BMI1-dependent regulation of expressed alleles at imprinted loci, distinct from imprinting per se, is required for control of lung stem cells. We anticipate that the regulation and function of imprinted genes is crucial for self-renewal in diverse adult tissue-specific stem cells.