Phylogenetic and DNA methylation analysis reveal novel regions of variable methylation in the mouse IAP class of transposons


Abstract Background Select retrotransposons in the long terminal repeat (LTR) class exhibit interindividual variation in DNA methylation that is altered by developmental environmental exposures. Yet, neither the full extent of variability at these “metastable epialleles,” nor the phylogenetic relationship underlying variable elements is well understood. The murine metastable epialleles, Avy and CabpIAP, result from independent insertions of an intracisternal A particle (IAP) mobile element, and exhibit remarkably similar sequence identity (98.5%). Results Utilizing the C57BL/6 genome we identified 10802 IAP LTRs overall and a subset of 1388 in a family that includes Avy and CabpIAP. Phylogenetic analysis revealed two duplication and divergence events subdividing this family into three clades. To characterize interindividual variation across clades, liver DNA from 17 isogenic mice was subjected to combined bisulfite and restriction analysis (CoBRA) for 21 separate LTR transposons (7 per clade). The lowest and highest mean methylation values were 59% and 88% respectively, while methylation levels at individual LTRs varied widely, ranging from 9% to 34%. The clade with the most conserved elements had significantly higher mean methylation across LTRs than either of the two diverged clades (p = 0.040 and p = 0.017). Within each mouse, average methylation across all LTRs was not significantly different (71%-74%, p > 0.99). Conclusions Combined phylogenetic and DNA methylation analysis allows for the identification of novel regions of variable methylation. This approach increases the number of known metastable epialleles in the mouse, which can serve as biomarkers for environmental modifications to the epigenome.

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