Cantone I et al.
Erasure of epigenetic memory is required to convert somatic cells towards pluripotency. Reactivation of the inactive X chromosome (Xi) has been used to model epigenetic reprogramming in mouse, but human studies are hampered by Xi epigenetic instability and difficulties in tracking partially reprogrammed iPSCs. Here we use cell fusion to examine the earliest events in the reprogramming-induced Xi reactivation of human female fibroblasts. We show that a rapid and widespread loss of Xi-associated H3K27me3 and XIST occurs in fused cells and precedes the bi-allelic expression of selected Xi-genes by many heterokaryons (30-50%). After cell division, RNA-FISH and RNA-seq analyses confirm that Xi reactivation remains partial and that induction of human pluripotency-specific XACT transcripts is rare (1%). These data effectively separate pre- and post-mitotic events in reprogramming-induced Xi reactivation and reveal a complex hierarchy of epigenetic changes that are required to reactivate the genes on the human Xi chromosome.