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Heterochromatin formation in the mouse embryo requires critical residues of the histone variant H3.3

Nature Cell Biology volume 12, pages 853862 (2010) | Download Citation



In mammals, oocyte fertilization by sperm initiates development. This is followed by epigenetic reprogramming of both parental genomes, which involves the de novo establishment of chromatin domains. In the mouse embryo, methylation of histone H3 establishes an epigenetic asymmetry and is predominant in the maternal pronucleus. However, the roles of differential incorporation of histone H3 variants in the parental chromatin, and of modified residues within specific histone variants, have not been addressed. Here we show that the histone variant H3.3, and in particular lysine 27, is required for the establishment of heterochromatin in the mouse embryo. H3.3 localizes to paternal pericentromeric chromatin during S phase at the time of transcription of pericentromeric repeats. Mutation of H3.3 K27, but not of H3.1 K27, results in aberrant accumulation of pericentromeric transcripts, HP1 mislocalization, dysfunctional chromosome segregation and developmental arrest. This phenotype is rescued by injection of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) derived from pericentromeric transcripts, indicating a functional link between H3.3K27 and the silencing of such regions by means of an RNA-interference (RNAi) pathway. Our work demonstrates a role for a modifiable residue within a histone-variant-specific context during reprogramming and identifies a novel function for mammalian H3.3 in the initial formation of dsRNA-dependent heterochromatin.

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We thank Kami Ahmad for providing H3.3 constructs, Florence Cammas and Tony Kouzarides for HP1β cDNAs, Natacha Dreumont and James Stevenin for advice on RNA-shift, and Olivier Pourquie for critical reading of the manuscript. A.J.B. acknowledges funding from Cancer Research U.K.; M.E.T.-P. acknowledges funding from Programme National de Recherche Reproduction Endocrinologie (PNRRE) and the Avenir programme from INSERM, and ANR-09-Blanc-0114.

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  1. Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Centre national de la recherche scientifique/Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale U964, Université de Strasbourg, F-67404 Illkirch, France.

    • Angèle Santenard
    • , Céline Ziegler-Birling
    • , Marc Koch
    • , Làszlò Tora
    •  & Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla
  2. The Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1QN, UK.

    • Andrew J. Bannister


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A.S. designed, performed and analysed most of the experiments in this study. C.Z.-B. and M.K. performed experiments. L.T. provided support during the initial phase of this work. A.J.B. contributed to the design of the project. M.E.T.-P. conceived the project, designed and supervised the study and performed experiments. A.S., A.J.B. and M.-E.T.-P wrote the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla.

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