After fertilization, the sperm and oocyte genomes undergo extensive epigenetic reprogramming to form a totipotent zygote. The dynamic epigenetic changes during early embryo development primarily involve DNA methylation and demethylation. We have previously identified Gse (gonad-specific expression gene) to be expressed specifically in germ cells and early embryos. Its encoded protein GSE is predominantly localized in the nuclei of cells from the zygote to blastocyst stages, suggesting possible roles in the epigenetic changes occurring during early embryo development. Here, we report the involvement of GSE in epigenetic reprogramming of the paternal genome during mouse zygote development. Preferential binding of GSE to the paternal chromatin was observed from pronuclear stage 2 (PN2) onward. A knockdown of GSE by antisense RNA in oocytes produced no apparent effect on the first and second cell cycles in preimplantation embryos, but caused a significant reduction in the loss of 5-methylcytosine (5 mC) and the accumulation of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5 hmC) in the paternal pronucleus. Furthermore, DNA methylation levels in CpG sites of LINE1 transposable elements, Lemd1, Nanog and the upstream regulatory region of the Oct4 (also known as Pou5f1) gene were clearly increased in GSE-knockdown zygotes at mid-pronuclear stages (PN3-4), but the imprinted H19-differential methylated region was not affected. Importantly, DNA immunoprecipitation of 5 mC and 5 hmC also indicates that knockdown of GSE in zygotes resulted in a significant reduction of the conversion of 5 mC to 5 hmC on LINE1. Therefore, our results suggest an important role of maternal GSE for mediating active DNA demethylation in the zygote.
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