Female human pluripotent stem cells rapidly lose X chromosome inactivation marks and progress to a skewed methylation pattern during culture

M. Geens, A. Seriola, L. Barbé, J. Santalo, A. Veiga, K. Dée, L. Van Haute, K. Sermon, C. Spits

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15 Citations (Scopus)


© The Author 2016. Study hypothesis: Does a preferential X chromosome inactivation (XCI) pattern exist in female human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) and does the pattern change during long-term culture or upon differentiation? Study finding: We identified two independent phenomena that lead to aberrant XCI patterns in female hPSC: a rapid loss of histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3) and long non-coding X-inactive specific transcript (XIST) expression during culture, often accompanied by erosion of XCI-specific methylation, and a frequent loss of random XCI in the cultures. What is known already: Variable XCI patterns have been reported in female hPSC, not only between different hPSC lines, but also between sub-passages of the same cell line, however the reasons for this variability remain unknown. Moreover, while non-random XCI-linked DNA methylation patterns have been previously reported, their origin and extent have not been investigated. study design, samples/materials, Methods: We investigated the XCI patterns in 23 human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) lines, during long-term culture and after differentiation, by gene expression analysis, histone modification assessment and study of DNA methylation. The presence and location of H3K27me3 was studied by immunofluorescence, XIST expression by real-time PCR, and mono- or bi-allelic expression of X-linked genes was studied by sequencing of cDNA. XCI-specific DNA methylation was analysed using methylation-sensitive restriction and PCR, and more in depth by massive parallel bisulphite sequencing. main results and the roleof chance: All hPSC lines showedXCI, butwe found a rapid loss ofXCImarks during the early stages of in vitro culture. While this loss of XCI marks was accompanied in several cases by an extensive erosion of XCI-specific methylation, it did not result inXchromosome reactivation. Moreover, lines without strong erosion of methylation frequently displayed non-randomDNAmethylation, which occurred independently from the loss of XCI marks. This bias in X chromosome DNA methylation did not appear as a passenger event driven by clonal culture take-over of chromosome abnormalities and was independent of the parental origin of theXchromosome. Therefore,we suggest that a culture advantage conferred by alleles on the X chromosome or by XCI-related mechanisms may be at the basis of this phenomenon. Finally, differentiated populations inherited the aberrant XCI patterns from the undifferentiated cells they were derived from. limitations, reasons for caution: All hPSC lines in this study were cultured in highly similar conditions. Our results may therefore be specific for these conditions and alternative culture conditions might lead to different findings. Our findings are only a first step towards elucidating the molecular events leading to the phenomena we observed. Wider implications of the findings: Our results highlight the significant extent of aberrant XCI in female hPSC. The fact that these aberrations are inherited by the differentiated progeny may have a significant impact on downstream research and clinical uses of hPSC. In order to achieve the full potential of hPSC, more insight into the XCI status and its stability in hPSC and its effect on the properties of the differentiated progeny is needed. large scale data: Not applicable. Study funding and competing interest(s): Our research is supported by grants from the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen, grant 1502512N), Generalitat de Catalunya (2014SGR-005214) and the Methusalem grant of the Research Council of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, on name of K.S. L.V.H. is funded by EMBO (ALTF 701-2013). The authors declare no potential conflict of interest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-298
JournalMolecular Human Reproduction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • Differentiation
  • Histone marks
  • Human pluripotent stem cells
  • Long-term culture
  • Skewed methylation
  • X chromosome inactivation
  • XIST


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