Monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation involves major biochemical and structural changes. In order to elucidate the role of gene regulatory changes during this process, we used high-throughput sequencing to analyze the complete transcriptome and epigenome of human monocytes that were differentiated in vitro by addition of colony-stimulating factor 1 in serum-free medium.
Numerous mRNAs and miRNAs were significantly up- or down-regulated. More than 100 discrete DNA regions, most often far away from transcription start sites, were rapidly demethylated by the ten eleven translocation enzymes, became nucleosome-free and gained histone marks indicative of active enhancers. These regions were unique for macrophages and associated with genes involved in the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton, phagocytosis and innate immune response.
In summary, we have discovered a phagocytic gene network that is repressed by DNA methylation in monocytes and rapidly de-repressed after the onset of macrophage differentiation.