Background: The Dlk1 and Gtl2 genes define a region of mouse chromosome 12 that is subject to genomic imprinting, the parental allele-specific expression of a gene. Although imprinted genes play important roles in growth and development, the mechanisms by which imprinting is established and maintained are poorly understood. Differentially methylated regions (DMRs), which carry methylation on only one parental allele, are involved in imprinting control at many loci. The Dlk1-Gtl2 region contains three known DMRs, the Dlk1 DMR in the 3' region of Dlk1, the intergenic DMR 15 kb upstream of Gtl2, and the Gtl2 DMR at the Gtl2 promoter. Three mouse models are analyzed here that provide new information about the regulation of Dlk1-Gtl2 imprinting.
Results: A previously existing insertional mutation (Gtl2lacZ), and a targeted deletion in which the Gtl2 upstream region was replaced by a Neo cassette (Gtl2Delta5'Neo), display partial lethality and dwarfism upon paternal inheritance. Molecular characterization shows that both mutations cause loss of imprinting and changes in expression of the Dlk1, Gtl2 and Meg8/Rian genes. Dlk1 levels are decreased upon paternal inheritance of either mutation, suggesting Dlk1 may be causative for the lethality and dwarfism. Loss of imprinting on the paternal chromosome in both Gtl2lacZ and Gtl2Delta5'Neo mice is accompanied by the loss of paternal-specific Gtl2 DMR methylation, while maternal loss of imprinting suggests a previously unknown regulatory role for the maternal Gtl2 DMR. Unexpectedly, when the Neo gene is excised, Gtl2Delta5' animals are of normal size, imprinting is unchanged and the Gtl2 DMR is properly methylated. The exogenous DNA sequences integrated upstream of Gtl2 are therefore responsible for the growth and imprinting effects.
Conclusion: These data provide further evidence for the coregulation of the imprinted Dlk1 and Gtl2 genes, and support a role for Dlk1 as an important neonatal growth factor. The ability of the Gtl2lacZ and Gtl2Delta5'Neo mutations to cause long-range changes in imprinting and gene expression suggest that regional imprinting regulatory elements may lie in proximity to the integration site.