Yu B, Russanova VR, Gravina S, Hartley S, Mullikin JC, Ignezweski A, Graham J, Segars JH, DeCherney AH, Howard BH.
Diminished ovarian function occurs early and is a primary cause for age-related decline in female fertility; however, its underlying mechanism remains unclear. This study investigated the roles that genome and epigenome structure play in age-related changes in gene expression and ovarian function, using human ovarian granulosa cells as an experimental system. DNA methylomes were compared between two groups of women with distinct age-related differences in ovarian functions, using both Methylated DNA Capture followed by Next Generation Sequencing (MethylCap-seq) and Reduced Representation Bisulfite Sequencing (RRBS); their transcriptomes were investigated using mRNA-seq. Significant, non-random changes in transcriptome and DNA methylome features are observed in human ovarian granulosa cells as women age and their ovarian functions deteriorate. The strongest correlations between methylation and the age-related changes in gene expression are not confined to the promoter region; rather, high densities of hypomethylated CpG-rich regions spanning the gene body are preferentially associated with gene down-regulation. This association is further enhanced where CpG regions are localized near the 3'-end of the gene. Such features characterize several genes crucial in age-related decline in ovarian function, most notably the AMH (Anti-Müllerian Hormone) gene. The genome-wide correlation between the density of hypomethylated intragenic and 3'-end regions and gene expression suggests previously unexplored mechanisms linking epigenome structure to age-related physiology and pathology.