The epigenetic plasticity of amphibian retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) allows them to regenerate the entire retina, a trait known to be absent in mammals. In this study, we investigated the epigenetic plasticity of adult murine RPE to identify possible mechanisms that prevent mammalian RPE from regenerating retinal tissue. RPE were analyzed using microarray, ChIP-seq, and whole-genome bisulfite sequencing approaches. We found that the majority of key genes required for progenitor phenotypes were in a permissive chromatin state and unmethylated in RPE. We observed that the majority of non-photoreceptor genes had promoters in a repressive chromatin state, but these promoters were in unmethylated or low-methylated regions. Meanwhile, the majority of promoters for photoreceptor genes were found in a permissive chromatin state, but were highly-methylated. Methylome states of photoreceptor-related genes in adult RPE and embryonic retina (which mostly contain progenitors) were very similar. However, promoters of these genes were demethylated and activated during retinal development. Our data suggest that, epigenetically, adult murine RPE cells are a progenitor-like cell type. Most likely two mechanisms prevent adult RPE from reprogramming and differentiating into retinal neurons: 1) repressive chromatin in the promoter regions of non-photoreceptor retinal neuron genes; 2) highly-methylated promoters of photoreceptor-related genes.
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