BACKGROUND: Parental imprinting is an epigenetic mechanism that leads to monoallelic expression of a subset of genes depending on their parental origin. Imprinting disorders (IDs), caused by disturbances of imprinted genes, are a set of rare congenital diseases that mainly affect growth, metabolism and development. To date, there is no accurate model to study the physiopathology of IDs or test therapeutic strategies. Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are a promising cellular approach to model human diseases and complex genetic disorders. However, aberrant hypermethylation of imprinting control regions (ICRs) may appear during the reprogramming process and subsequent culture of iPSCs. Therefore, we tested various conditions of reprogramming and culture of iPSCs and performed an extensive analysis of methylation marks at the ICRs to develop a cellular model that can be used to study IDs.
RESULTS: We assessed the methylation levels at seven imprinted loci in iPSCs before differentiation, at various passages of cell culture, and during chondrogenic differentiation. Abnormal methylation levels were found, with hypermethylation at 11p15 H19/IGF2:IG-DMR and 14q32 MEG3/DLK1:IG-DMR, independently of the reprogramming method and cells of origin. Hypermethylation at these two loci led to the loss of parental imprinting (LOI), with biallelic expression of the imprinted genes IGF2 and DLK1, respectively. The epiPS culture medium combined with culturing of the cells under hypoxic conditions prevented hypermethylation at H19/IGF2:IG-DMR (ICR1) and MEG3/DLK1:IG-DMR, as well as at other imprinted loci, while preserving the proliferation and pluripotency qualities of these iPSCs.
CONCLUSIONS: An extensive and quantitative analysis of methylation levels of ICRs in iPSCs showed hypermethylation of certain ICRs in human iPSCs, especially paternally methylated ICRs, and subsequent LOI of certain imprinted genes. The epiPS culture medium and culturing of the cells under hypoxic conditions prevented hypermethylation of ICRs in iPSCs. We demonstrated that the reprogramming and culture in epiPS medium allow the generation of control iPSCs lines with a balanced methylation and ID patient iPSCs lines with unbalanced methylation. Human iPSCs are therefore a promising cellular model to study the physiopathology of IDs and test therapies in tissues of interest.