Genes & development

DNA methylation restrains transposons from adopting a chromatin signature permissive for meiotic recombination.

PMID 26109049


DNA methylation is essential for protecting the mammalian germline against transposons. When DNA methylation-based transposon control is defective, meiotic chromosome pairing is consistently impaired during spermatogenesis: How and why meiosis is vulnerable to transposon activity is unknown. Using two DNA methylation-deficient backgrounds, the Dnmt3L and Miwi2 mutant mice, we reveal that DNA methylation is largely dispensable for silencing transposons before meiosis onset. After this, it becomes crucial to back up to a developmentally programmed H3K9me2 loss. Massive retrotransposition does not occur following transposon derepression, but the meiotic chromatin landscape is profoundly affected. Indeed, H3K4me3 marks gained over transcriptionally active transposons correlate with formation of SPO11-dependent double-strand breaks and recruitment of the DMC1 repair enzyme in Dnmt3L(-/-) meiotic cells, whereas these features are normally exclusive to meiotic recombination hot spots. Here, we demonstrate that DNA methylation restrains transposons from adopting chromatin characteristics amenable to meiotic recombination, which we propose prevents the occurrence of erratic chromosomal events.