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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A role for epigenetic modifications in the maintenance of mouse Ly49 receptor expression Rouhi, Arefeh


Although structurally unrelated, the human killer cell immunoglobulin-like (KIR) and the rodent lectin-like Ly49 receptors serve similar functional roles in natural killer (NK) cells. Moreover, both gene families display variegated and mostly mono-allelic expression patterns established at the transcriptional level. DNA methylation, but not histone modifications, has recently been shown to play an important role in maintenance of the expression patterns of KIR genes but the potential role of DNA methylation in the expression of Ly49 genes was unknown. My thesis focuses on the role of epigenetic modifications, especially DNA methylation, in the maintenance of mouse Ly49 gene expression. I show that hypomethylation of the region encompassing the main promoter of Ly49a and Ly49c in primary C57BL/6 (B6) mouse NK cells correlates with expression of these genes. Using B6 x BALB/c Fl hybrid mice, I demonstrate that the expressed allele of Ly49a is hypomethylated while the non-expressed allele is heavily methylated, indicating a role for epigenetics in maintaining mono-allelic Ly49 gene expression. Furthermore, the Ly49a promoter region is heavily methylated in fetal NK cells but variably methylated in non-lymphoid tissues. In apparent contrast to the KIR genes, I show that histone acetylation state of the promoter region strictly correlate with Ly49A and Ly49G expression status. Also, the instability of Ly49G expression on some lymphoid cell lines is at least in part due to changes in the level of histone acetylation of the promoter region. As for the activating Ly49 receptors, it seems that although DNA methylation levels of the promoter regions do correlate with the state of expression of these receptors, the pattern of DNA methylation is different from that of the inhibitory Ly49a and c genes. In conclusion, my results support a role for epigenetic mechanisms in the maintenance of Ly49 expression. Moreover, these epigenetic mechanisms appear to vary among the Ly49 genes and also differ from those governing KIR expression.

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