Background: Inactivation of the maternally or paternally derived X chromosome (XCI) initially occurs in a random manner in early development; however as tissues form, a 'patchiness' will occur in terms of which X is inactivated if cells positioned near each other are clonally descended from a common precursor. Determining the relationship between skewed XCI in different tissues and in different samples from the same tissue provides a molecular assessment of the developmental history of a particular tissue that can then be used to understand how genetic and epigenetic variation arises in development.
Methods: XCI skewing was evaluated in and compared between amnion, chorion, trophoblast and mesenchyme using multiple sampling sites from 14 term placentae. XCI was also evaluated in chorionic villus samples obtained at multiple sites and depths from four additional term placentae. The pattern of variation was then compared with methylation variation associated with the H19/IGF2 imprinting control region (ICR); promoter regions of KISS1, PTPN6, CASP8 and APC; and LINE-1 elements.
Results: Mean placental level of skewing for amnion and chorion are correlated, consistent with a common developmental origin of at least a component of these membranes from inner cell mass derivatives subsequent to XCI, while trophoblast appears to be derived independently, consistent with its origin from the trophectoderm. Villus samples taken from different depths spanning the fetal to maternal side of the placenta were highly clonally related. Comparing patterns of clonal growth identified through XCI to the distribution of epigenetic variation in other genomic regions suggests that some variation arises early in development (e.g. LINE-1 methylation), whereas other variation arises predominantly after villus tree formation (e.g. methylation at H19/IGF2 ICR).
Conclusions: The patterns of XCI skewing are consistent with a model whereby each biopsied site of chorionic villi represents one or a few individual villus trees, each of which is clonally derived from only one or a few precursor cells. Sampling of placentae to evaluate changes associated with clinical pathology should be done with consideration of the tree-to-tree differences. A limitation of this study is the small number of placentas used and therefore placental-specific differences in variation could not be assessed.