The transition from follicle to corpus luteum after ovulation is associated with profound morphological and functional changes and is accompanied by corresponding changes in gene expression. The gene encoding the α subunit of the dimeric reproductive hormone inhibin is maximally expressed in the granulosa cells of the preovulatory follicle, is rapidly repressed by the ovulatory LH surge, and is expressed at only very low levels in the corpus luteum. Although previous studies have identified transient repressors of inhibin α gene transcription, little is known about how this repression is maintained in the corpus luteum. This study examines the role of epigenetic changes, including DNA methylation and histone modification, in silencing of inhibin α gene expression. Bisulfite sequencing reveals that methylation of the inhibin α proximal promoter is low in preovulatory and ovulatory follicles but is elevated in the corpus luteum. Increased methylation during luteinization is observed within the cAMP response element in the promoter, and EMSA demonstrate that methylation of this site inhibits cAMP response element binding protein binding in vitro. Chromatin immunoprecipitation reveals that repressive histone marks H3K9 and H3K27 trimethylation are increased on the inhibin α promoter in primary luteal cells, whereas the activation mark H3K4 trimethylation is decreased. The changes in histone modification precede the alterations in DNA methylation, suggesting that they facilitate the recruitment of DNA methyltransferases. We show that the DNA methyltransferase DNMT3a is present in the ovary and in luteal cells when the inhibin α promoter becomes methylated and observe recruitment of DNMT3a to the inhibin promoter during luteinization.
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