Gavin Kelsey

Research Summary

As well as genetic information, the egg and sperm also contribute epigenetic annotations that may influence gene activity after fertilisation. These annotations may be direct modifications of the DNA bases or of the proteins around which the DNA is wrapped into chromatin. Our goal is to understand whether, through epigenetics, factors such as a mother’s age or diet have consequences on the health of a child.
 
We examine how epigenetic states are set up in oocytes – or egg cells – and influence gene expression in the embryo. For example, repressive chromatin marks in oocytes lead to long-term silencing of genes inherited from the mother, particularly in cells that will form the placenta. We are also interested in how variations in DNA methylation come about in oocytes and whether we can use this variation as a marker for oocyte quality and embryo potential. To investigate these questions, we develop methods to profile epigenetic information in very small numbers of cells or even in single cells.

Latest Publications

DNA Methylation Dynamics in the Female Germline and Maternal-Effect Mutations That Disrupt Genomic Imprinting.
Anvar Z, Chakchouk I, Demond H, Sharif M, Kelsey G, Van den Veyver IB

Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic marking process that results in the monoallelic expression of a subset of genes. Many of these 'imprinted' genes in mice and humans are involved in embryonic and extraembryonic growth and development, and some have life-long impacts on metabolism. During mammalian development, the genome undergoes waves of (re)programming of DNA methylation and other epigenetic marks. Disturbances in these events can cause imprinting disorders and compromise development. Multi-locus imprinting disturbance (MLID) is a condition by which imprinting defects touch more than one locus. Although most cases with MLID present with clinical features characteristic of one imprinting disorder. Imprinting defects also occur in 'molar' pregnancies-which are characterized by highly compromised embryonic development-and in other forms of reproductive compromise presenting clinically as infertility or early pregnancy loss. Pathogenic variants in some of the genes encoding proteins of the subcortical maternal complex (SCMC), a multi-protein complex in the mammalian oocyte, are responsible for a rare subgroup of moles, biparental complete hydatidiform mole (BiCHM), and other adverse reproductive outcomes which have been associated with altered imprinting status of the oocyte, embryo and/or placenta. The finding that defects in a cytoplasmic protein complex could have severe impacts on genomic methylation at critical times in gamete or early embryo development has wider implications beyond these relatively rare disorders. It signifies a potential for adverse maternal physiology, nutrition, or assisted reproduction to cause epigenetic defects at imprinted or other genes. Here, we review key milestones in DNA methylation patterning in the female germline and the embryo focusing on humans. We provide an overview of recent findings regarding DNA methylation deficits causing BiCHM, MLID, and early embryonic arrest. We also summarize identified SCMC mutations with regard to early embryonic arrest, BiCHM, and MLID.

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Genes, 12, 8, 06 Aug 2021

PMID: 34440388

Open Access

Culture Medium and Sex Drive Epigenetic Reprogramming in Preimplantation Bovine Embryos.
Canovas S, Ivanova E, Hamdi M, Perez-Sanz F, Rizos D, Kelsey G, Coy P

Assisted reproductive technologies impact transcriptome and epigenome of embryos and can result in long-term phenotypic consequences. Whole-genome DNA methylation profiles from individual bovine blastocysts in vivo- and in vitro-derived (using three sources of protein: reproductive fluids, blood serum and bovine serum albumin) were generated. The impact of in vitro culture on DNA methylation was analyzed, and sex-specific methylation differences at blastocyst stage were uncovered. In vivo embryos showed the highest levels of methylation (29.5%), close to those produced in vitro with serum, whilst embryos produced in vitro with reproductive fluids or albumin showed less global methylation (25-25.4%). During repetitive element analysis, the serum group was the most affected. DNA methylation differences between in vivo and in vitro groups were more frequent in the first intron than in CpGi in promoters. Moreover, hierarchical cluster analysis showed that sex produced a stronger bias in the results than embryo origin. For each group, distance between male and female embryos varied, with in vivo blastocyst showing a lesser distance. Between the sexually dimorphic methylated tiles, which were biased to X-chromosome, critical factors for reproduction, developmental process, cell proliferation and DNA methylation machinery were included. These results support the idea that blastocysts show sexually-dimorphic DNA methylation patterns, and the known picture about the blastocyst methylome should be reconsidered.

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International journal of molecular sciences, 22, 12, 15 Jun 2021

PMID: 34204008

Open Access

Oxygen concentration affects de novo DNA methylation and transcription in in vitro cultured oocytes.
Naillat F, Saadeh H, Nowacka-Woszuk J, Gahurova L, Santos F, Tomizawa SI, Kelsey G

Reproductive biology methods rely on in vitro follicle cultures from mature follicles obtained by hormonal stimulation for generating metaphase II oocytes to be fertilised and developed into a healthy embryo. Such techniques are used routinely in both rodent and human species. DNA methylation is a dynamic process that plays a role in epigenetic regulation of gametogenesis and development. In mammalian oocytes, DNA methylation establishment regulates gene expression in the embryos. This regulation is particularly important for a class of genes, imprinted genes, whose expression patterns are crucial for the next generation. The aim of this work was to establish an in vitro culture system for immature mouse oocytes that will allow manipulation of specific factors for a deeper analysis of regulatory mechanisms for establishing transcription regulation-associated methylation patterns.

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Clinical epigenetics, 13, 1, 28 Jun 2021

PMID: 34183052

Open Access