Rechtsteiner A, Ercan S, Takasaki T, Phippen TM, Egelhofer TA, Wang W, Kimura H, Lieb JD, Strome S
Methylation of histone H3K36 in higher eukaryotes is mediated by multiple methyltransferases. Set2-related H3K36 methyltransferases are targeted to genes by association with RNA Polymerase II and are involved in preventing aberrant transcription initiation within the body of genes. The targeting and roles of the NSD family of mammalian H3K36 methyltransferases, known to be involved in human developmental disorders and oncogenesis, are not known. We used genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) to investigate the targeting and roles of the Caenorhabditis elegans NSD homolog MES-4, which is maternally provided to progeny and is required for the survival of nascent germ cells. ChIP analysis in early C. elegans embryos revealed that, consistent with immunostaining results, MES-4 binding sites are concentrated on the autosomes and the leftmost approximately 2% (300 kb) of the X chromosome. MES-4 overlies the coding regions of approximately 5,000 genes, with a modest elevation in the 5' regions of gene bodies. Although MES-4 is generally found over Pol II-bound genes, analysis of gene sets with different temporal-spatial patterns of expression revealed that Pol II association with genes is neither necessary nor sufficient to recruit MES-4. In early embryos, MES-4 associates with genes that were previously expressed in the maternal germ line, an interaction that does not require continued association of Pol II with those loci. Conversely, Pol II association with genes newly expressed in embryos does not lead to recruitment of MES-4 to those genes. These and other findings suggest that MES-4, and perhaps the related mammalian NSD proteins, provide an epigenetic function for H3K36 methylation that is novel and likely to be unrelated to ongoing transcription. We propose that MES-4 transmits the memory of gene expression in the parental germ line to offspring and that this memory role is critical for the PGCs to execute a proper germline program.