Tracking the evolution of epialleles during neural differentiation and brain development: D-Aspartate oxidase as a model gene
We performed ultra-deep methylation analysis at single molecule level of the promoter region of developmentally regulated D-Aspartate oxidase (Ddo), as a model gene, during brain development and embryonic stem cell neural differentiation. Single molecule methylation analysis enabled us to establish the effective epiallele composition within mixed or pure brain cell populations. In this framework, an epiallele is defined as a specific combination of methylated CpG within Ddo locus and can represent the epigenetic haplotype revealing a cell-to-cell methylation heterogeneity. Using this approach, we found a high degree of polymorphism of methylated alleles (epipolymorphism) evolving in a remarkably conserved fashion during brain development. The different sets of epialleles mark stage, brain areas, and cell type and unravel the possible role of specific CpGs in favoring or inhibiting local methylation. Undifferentiated embryonic stem cells showed non-organized distribution of epialleles that apparently originated by stochastic methylation events on individual CpGs. Upon neural differentiation, despite detecting no changes in average methylation, we observed that the epiallele distribution was profoundly different, gradually shifting toward organized patterns specific to the glial or neuronal cell types. Our findings provide a deep view of gene methylation heterogeneity in brain cell populations promising to furnish innovative ways to unravel mechanisms underlying methylation patterns generation and alteration in brain diseases.