Epigenetic modifications play a central role in the differentiation and function of immune cells in adult animals. Developmentally regulated epigenetic patterns also appear to contribute to the ontogeny of the immune system. We show here that the epigenetic profile of the T-helper (Th) 2 locus undergoes changes in T lineage cells beginning in mid-gestation and extending throughout the first week of life. In particular, regulatory regions of the Th2 locus are largely methylated at CpG residues among fetal liver common lymphoid progenitor cells. The locus subsequently becomes highly hypomethylated among the downstream progeny of these cells within the fetal thymus. This hypomethylated state is preserved until birth when the locus becomes rapidly re-methylated, achieving adult-like status by 3-6 days post birth. Notably, the capacity for rapid, high level Th2 cytokine production is lost in parallel with this re-methylation. In vitro organ culture and in vivo transplantation experiments indicate that signals from the adult environment are required to achieve the postnatal methylated state. Together, these findings indicate that the Th2 bias of neonates may be conferred, in part, by an epigenetic profile inherited from fetal life. However, the fetal program is rapidly terminated post birth by the development of signals leading to the acquisition of adult-like epigenetic patterns.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)