Sex-specific dynamics of global chromatin changes in fetal mouse germ cells

PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23848. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023848. Epub 2011 Aug 19.


Mammalian germ cells undergo global reprogramming of DNA methylation during their development. Global DNA demethylation occurs around the time when the primordial germ cells colonize the embryonic gonads and this coincides with dynamic changes in chromatin composition. Global de novo DNA methylation takes place with remarkably different dynamics between the two sexes, prospermatogonia attaining methylation during fetal stages and oocytes attaining methylation postnatally. Our hypothesis was that dynamic changes in chromatin composition may precede or accompany the wave of global DNA de novo methylation as well. We used immunocytochemistry to measure global DNA methylation and chromatin components in male and female mouse fetal germ cells compared to control somatic cells of the gonad. We found that global DNA methylation levels sharply increased in male germ cells at 17.5 days post coitum, but remained low in female germ cells at all fetal stages. Global changes in chromatin composition: i, preceded global DNA methylation in fetal germ cells; ii, sex specifically occurred in male but not in female germ cells; iii, affected active and repressive histone marks and iv, included histone tail and histone globular domain modifications. Our data suggest that dynamic changes of chromatin composition may provide a framework for the pattern of male-specific de novo DNA methylation in prospermatogonia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Female
  • Germ Cells / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Sex Factors
  • Spermatogenesis


  • Chromatin