Sequence level mechanisms of human epigenome evolution

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DNA methylation and chromatin states play key roles in development and disease. However the extent of recent evolutionary divergence in the human epigenome and the influential factors that have shaped it are poorly understood. To determine the links between genome sequence and human epigenome evolution we examined the divergence of DNA methylation and chromatin states following segmental duplication events in the human lineage. Chromatin and DNA methylation states were found to have been generally well conserved following a duplication event, with the evolution of the epigenome largely uncoupled from the total number of genetic changes in the surrounding DNA sequence. However the epigenome at tissue specific, distal regulatory regions was observed to be unusually prone to diverge following duplication, with particular sequence differences, altering known sequence motifs, found to be associated with divergence in patterns of DNA methylation and chromatin. Alu elements were found to have played a particularly prominent role in shaping human epigenome evolution, and we show that human-specific AluY insertion events are strongly linked to the evolution of the DNA methylation landscape and gene expression levels, including at key neurological genes in the human brain. Studying paralogous regions within the same sample enables the study of the links between genome and epigenome evolution while controlling for biological and technical variation. We show DNA methylation and chromatin divergence between duplicated regions is linked to the divergence of particular genetic motifs, with Alu elements having played a disproportionate role in the evolution of the epigenome in the human lineage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1758-1771
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2014


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