SMCHD1 regulates a limited set of gene clusters on autosomal chromosomes

Amanda G. Mason, Roderick C. Slieker, Judit Balog, Richard J.L.F. Lemmers, Chao Jen Wong, Zizhen Yao, Jong Won Lim, Galina N. Filippova, Enrico Ne, Rabi Tawil, Bas T. Heijmans, Stephen J. Tapscott, Silvère M. van der Maarel

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Background: Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is in most cases caused by a contraction of the D4Z4 macrosatellite repeat on chromosome 4 (FSHD1) or by mutations in the SMCHD1 or DNMT3B gene (FSHD2). Both situations result in the incomplete epigenetic repression of the D4Z4-encoded retrogene DUX4 in somatic cells, leading to the aberrant expression of DUX4 in the skeletal muscle. In mice, Smchd1 regulates chromatin repression at different loci, having a role in CpG methylation establishment and/or maintenance. Methods: To investigate the global effects of harboring heterozygous SMCHD1 mutations on DNA methylation in humans, we combined 450k methylation analysis on mononuclear monocytes from female heterozygous SMCHD1 mutation carriers and unaffected controls with reduced representation bisulfite sequencing (RRBS) on FSHD2 and control myoblast cell lines. Candidate loci were then evaluated for SMCHD1 binding using ChIP-qPCR and expression was evaluated using RT-qPCR. Results: We identified a limited number of clustered autosomal loci with CpG hypomethylation in SMCHD1 mutation carriers: the protocadherin (PCDH) cluster on chromosome 5, the transfer RNA (tRNA) and 5S rRNA clusters on chromosome 1, the HOXB and HOXD clusters on chromosomes 17 and 2, respectively, and the D4Z4 repeats on chromosomes 4 and 10. Furthermore, minor increases in RNA expression were seen in FSHD2 myoblasts for some of the PCDHβ cluster isoforms, tRNA isoforms, and a HOXB isoform in comparison to controls, in addition to the previously reported effects on DUX4 expression. SMCHD1 was bound at DNAseI hypersensitivity sites known to regulate the PCDHβ cluster and at the chromosome 1 tRNA cluster, with decreased binding in SMCHD1 mutation carriers at the PCDHβ cluster sites. Conclusions: Our study is the first to investigate the global methylation effects in humans resulting from heterozygous mutations in SMCHD1. Our results suggest that SMCHD1 acts as a repressor on a limited set of autosomal gene clusters, as an observed reduction in methylation associates with a loss of SMCHD1 binding and increased expression for some of the loci.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalSkeletal Muscle
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2017


  • Chromatin
  • FSHD
  • Methylation
  • SMCHD1

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