DNA methylation controls various developmental processes by silencing, switching and stabilizing genes as well as remodeling chromatin. Among various symptoms in cloned animals, placental hypertrophy is commonly observed. We identified the Spalt-like gene3 (Sall3) locus as a hypermethylated region in the placental genome of cloned mice. The Sall3 locus has a CpG island containing a tissue-dependent differentially methylated region (T-DMR) specific to the trophoblast cell lineage. The T-DMR sequence is also conserved in the human genome at the SALL3 locus of chromosome 18q23, which has been suggested to be involved in the 18q deletion syndrome. Intriguingly, larger placentas were more heavily methylated at the Sall3 locus in cloned mice. This epigenetic error was found in all cloned mice examined regardless of sex, mouse strain and the type of donor cells. In contrast, the placentas of in vitro fertilized (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injected (ICSI) mice did not show such hypermethylation, suggesting that aberrant hypermethylation at the Sall3 locus is associated with abnormal placental development caused by nuclear transfer of somatic cells. We concluded that the Sall3 locus is the area with frequent epigenetic errors in cloned mice.These data suggest that there exists at least genetic locus that is highly susceptible to epigenetic error caused by nuclear transfer.
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