Single cell epigenetic visualization assay

Nucleic Acids Res. 2021 May 7;49(8):e43. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkab009.


Characterization of the epigenetic status of individual cells remains a challenge. Current sequencing approaches have limited coverage, and it is difficult to assign an epigenetic status to the transcription state of individual gene alleles in the same cell. To address these limitations, a targeted microscopy-based epigenetic visualization assay (EVA) was developed for detection and quantification of epigenetic marks at genes of interest in single cells. The assay is based on an in situ biochemical reaction between an antibody-conjugated alkaline phosphatase bound to the epigenetic mark of interest, and a 5'-phosphorylated fluorophore-labeled DNA oligo tethered to a target gene by gene-specific oligonucleotides. When the epigenetic mark is present at the gene, phosphate group removal by the phosphatase protects the oligo from λ-exonuclease activity providing a quantitative fluorescent readout. We applied EVA to measure 5-methylcytosine (5mC) and H3K9Ac levels at different genes and the HIV-1 provirus in human cell lines. To link epigenetic marks to gene transcription, EVA was combined with RNA-FISH. Higher 5mC levels at the silenced compared to transcribed XIST gene alleles in female somatic cells validated this approach and demonstrated that EVA can be used to relate epigenetic marks to the transcription status of individual gene alleles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine / metabolism*
  • Acetylation
  • Cell Line
  • DNA Methylation
  • Early Growth Response Protein 1 / genetics
  • Early Growth Response Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Silencing
  • HIV-1 / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Proviruses / metabolism
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / genetics
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / metabolism
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*


  • EGR1 protein, human
  • Early Growth Response Protein 1
  • Histones
  • RNA, Long Noncoding
  • XIST non-coding RNA
  • 5-Methylcytosine