The body plan of animals is laid out by an evolutionary-conserved HOX code which is colinearly transcribed after zygotic genome activation (ZGA). Here we report that SMCHD1, a chromatin-modifying enzyme needed for X-inactivation in mammals, is maternally required for timely HOX expression. Using zebrafish and mouse Smchd1 knockout animals, we demonstrate that Smchd1 haplo-insufficiency brings about precocious and ectopic HOX transcription during oogenesis and embryogenesis. Unexpectedly, wild-type offspring born to heterozygous knockout zebrafish smchd1 mothers exhibited patent vertebrate patterning defects. The loss of maternal Smchd1 was accompanied by HOX epi-mutations driven by aberrant DNA methylation. We further show that this regulation is mediated by Lrif1, a direct interacting partner of Smchd1, whose knockout in zebrafish phenocopies that of Smchd1. Rather than being a short-lived maternal effect, HOX mis-regulation is stably inherited through cell divisions and persists in cultured fibroblasts derived from FSHD2 patients haploinsufficient for SMCHD1. We conclude that maternal SMCHD1/LRIF1 sets up an epigenetic state in the HOX loci that can only be reset in the germline. Such an unusual inter-generational inheritance, whereby a phenotype can be one generation removed from its genotype, casts a new light on how unresolved Mendelian diseases may be interpreted.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)