Systems Biology Center, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH, Bethesda, MD, 20892, USA
Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) possess an open and highly dynamic chromatin landscape, which underlies their plasticity and ultimately maintains ESC pluripotency. The ESC epigenome must not only maintain the transcription of pluripotency-associated genes but must also, through gene priming, facilitate rapid and cell type-specific activation of developmental genes upon lineage commitment. Trans-generational inheritance ensures that the ESC chromatin state is stably transmitted from one generation to the next; yet at the same time, epigenetic marks are highly dynamic, reversible and responsive to extracellular cues. Once committed to differentiation, the ESC epigenome is remodeled and resolves into a more compact chromatin state. A thorough understanding of the role of chromatin modifiers in ESC fate and differentiation will be important if they are to be used for therapeutic purposes.
Recent technical advances, particularly in next-generation sequencing technologies, have provided a genome-scale view of epigenetic marks and chromatin modifiers. More affordable and faster sequencing platforms have led to a comprehensive characterization of the ESC epigenome and epigenomes of differentiated cell types. In this review, we summarize and discuss the recent progress that has highlighted the central role of histone modifications, histone variants, DNA methylation and chromatin modifiers in ESC pluripotency and ESC fate. We provide a detailed and comprehensive discussion of genome-wide studies that are pertinent to our understanding of mammalian development.
Keywords: Epigenomics, chromatin, embryonic stem cells, differentiation