Background: Genomic imprinting is an important epigenetic process involved in regulating placental and foetal growth. Imprinted genes are typically associated with differentially methylated regions (DMRs) whereby one of the two alleles is DNA methylated depending on the parent of origin. Identifying imprinted DMRs in humans is complicated by species- and tissue-specific differences in imprinting status and the presence of multiple regulatory regions associated with a particular gene, only some of which may be imprinted. In this study, we have taken advantage of the unbalanced parental genomic constitutions in triploidies to further characterize human DMRs associated with known imprinted genes and identify novel imprinted DMRs.
Results: By comparing the promoter methylation status of over 14,000 genes in human placentas from ten diandries (extra paternal haploid set) and ten digynies (extra maternal haploid set) and using 6 complete hydatidiform moles (paternal origin) and ten chromosomally normal placentas for comparison, we identified 62 genes with apparently imprinted DMRs (false discovery rate <0.1%). Of these 62 genes, 11 have been reported previously as DMRs that act as imprinting control regions, and the observed parental methylation patterns were concordant with those previously reported. We demonstrated that novel imprinted genes, such as FAM50B, as well as novel imprinted DMRs associated with known imprinted genes (for example, CDKN1C and RASGRF1) can be identified by using this approach. Furthermore, we have demonstrated how comparison of DNA methylation for known imprinted genes (for example, GNAS and CDKN1C) between placentas of different gestations and other somatic tissues (brain, kidney, muscle and blood) provides a detailed analysis of specific CpG sites associated with tissue-specific imprinting and gestational age-specific methylation.
Conclusions: DNA methylation profiling of triploidies in different tissues and developmental ages can be a powerful and effective way to map and characterize imprinted regions in the genome.