The vagaries of variegating transgenes

Bioessays. 1996 Nov;18(11):919-23. doi: 10.1002/bies.950181111.


Expression of transgenes in mice, when examined with assays that can distinguish individual cells, is often found to be heterocellular, or variegated. Line-to-line variations in expression of a transgene may be due largely to differences in the proportion of cells in which it is expressed. Variegated silencing by centromeric heterochromatin is well described, but other factors may also affect transgene silencing in mice. Tandem arrays of transgenes themselves form heterochromatin, and some cell lineages may tend to silence transgenes because of extensive facultative heterochromatin in their nuclei. The cis-acting transcriptional control elements within a transgene inhibit silencing, and strain-specific differences in chromatin proteins may strongly influence the extent of variegation. The accessibility of multiple differentiated cell lineages in mice suggests that they may provide a tool for dissecting the role of chromatin-mediated silencing in cell differentiation and tissue-specific gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage
  • Centromere / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Heterochromatin / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Transgenes*


  • Heterochromatin
  • Transcription Factors