Established epigenetic modifications determine the expression of developmentally regulated globin genes in somatic cell hybrids.
Stanworth SJ., Roberts NA., Sharpe JA., Sloane-Stanley JA., Wood WG.
Somatic cell hybrids generated from transgenic mouse cells have been used to examine the developmental regulation of human gamma-to-beta-globin gene switching. In hybrids between mouse erythroleukemia (MEL) cells and transgenic erythroblasts taken at various stages of development, there was regulated expression of the human fetal gamma and adult beta genes, reproducing the in vivo pattern prior to fusion. Hybrids formed from embryonic blood cells produced predominantly gamma mRNA, whereas beta gene expression was observed in adult hybrids and a complete range of intermediate patterns was found in fetal liver hybrids. The adult environment of the MEL cells, therefore, did not appear to influence selective transcription from this gene complex. Irradiation of the embryonic erythroid cells prior to fusion resulted in hybrids containing only small fragments of donor chromosomes, but the pattern of gene expression did not differ from that of unirradiated hybrids. This finding suggests that continued expression of trans-acting factors from the donor erythroblasts is not necessary for continued expression of the human gamma gene in MEL cells. These results contrast with the lack of developmental regulation of the cluster after transfection of naked DNA into MEL cells and suggest that epigenetic processes established during normal development result in the gene cluster adopting a developmental stage-specific, stable conformation which is maintained through multiple rounds of replication and transcription in the MEL cell hybrids. On prolonged culture, hybrids that initially expressed only the gamma transgene switched to beta gene expression. The time period of switching, from approximately 10 to > 40 weeks, was similar to that seen previously in human fetal erythroblast x MEL cell hybrids but in this case bore no relationship to the time of in vivo switching. It seems unlikely, therefore, that switching in these hybrids is regulated by a developmental clock.