Distinctive chromatin in human sperm packages genes for embryo development

Nature. 2009 Jul 23;460(7254):473-8. doi: 10.1038/nature08162. Epub 2009 Jun 14.


Because nucleosomes are widely replaced by protamine in mature human sperm, the epigenetic contributions of sperm chromatin to embryo development have been considered highly limited. Here we show that the retained nucleosomes are significantly enriched at loci of developmental importance, including imprinted gene clusters, microRNA clusters, HOX gene clusters, and the promoters of stand-alone developmental transcription and signalling factors. Notably, histone modifications localize to particular developmental loci. Dimethylated lysine 4 on histone H3 (H3K4me2) is enriched at certain developmental promoters, whereas large blocks of H3K4me3 localize to a subset of developmental promoters, regions in HOX clusters, certain noncoding RNAs, and generally to paternally expressed imprinted loci, but not paternally repressed loci. Notably, trimethylated H3K27 (H3K27me3) is significantly enriched at developmental promoters that are repressed in early embryos, including many bivalent (H3K4me3/H3K27me3) promoters in embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, developmental promoters are generally DNA hypomethylated in sperm, but acquire methylation during differentiation. Taken together, epigenetic marking in sperm is extensive, and correlated with developmental regulators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation
  • Embryo, Mammalian / embryology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genes / genetics*
  • Genes, Homeobox / genetics
  • Genomic Imprinting
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Multigene Family / genetics
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protamines / metabolism
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism*


  • Chromatin
  • MicroRNAs
  • Nucleosomes
  • Protamines

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE15594
  • GEO/GSE15690
  • GEO/GSE15701