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The interplay between DNA methylation and sequence divergence in recent human evolution

By Irene Hernando-Herraez, Holger Heyn, Marcos Fernandez-Callejo, Enrique Vidal, Hugo Fernandez-Bellon, Javier Prado-Martinez, Andrew J Sharp, Manel Esteller, Tomàs Marquès-Bonet

Posted 03 Mar 2015
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/015966 (published DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkv693)

DNA methylation is a key regulatory mechanism in mammalian genomes. Despite the increasing knowledge about this epigenetic modification, the understanding of human epigenome evolution is in its infancy. We used whole genome bisulfite sequencing to study DNA methylation and nucleotide divergence between human and great apes. We identified 360 and 210 differentially hypo- and hypermethylated regions (DMRs) in humans compared to non-human primates and estimated that 20% and 36% of these regions, respectively, were detectable throughout several human tissues. Human DMRs were enriched for specific histone modifications and contrary to expectations, the majority were located distal to transcription start sites, highlighting the importance of regions outside the direct regulatory context. We also found a significant excess of endogenous retrovirus elements in human-specific hypomethylated regions suggesting their association with local epigenetic changes. We also reported for the first time a close interplay between inter-species genetic and epigenetic variation in regions of incomplete lineage sorting, transcription factor binding sites and human differentially hypermethylated regions. Specifically, we observed an excess of human-specific substitutions in transcription factor binding sites located within human DMRs, suggesting that alteration of regulatory motifs underlies some human-specific methylation patterns. We also found that the acquisition of DNA hypermethylation in the human lineage is frequently coupled with a rapid evolution at nucleotide level in the neighborhood of these CpG sites. Taken together, our results reveal new insights into the mechanistic basis of human-specific DNA methylation patterns and the interpretation of inter-species non-coding variation.

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