H4K20me3 marks distal intergenic and repetitive regions in human mature spermatozoa


Sperm histones represent an essential part of the paternally transmitted epigenome, but uncertainty exists about the role of those remaining in non-coding and repetitive DNA. We therefore analyzed the genome-wide distribution of the heterochromatic marker H4K20me3 in human sperm and somatic (K562) cells. To specify the function of sperm histones, we compared all H4K20me3-containing and -free loci in the sperm genome. Sperm and somatic cells possessed a very similar H4K20me3 distribution: H4K20me3 peaks occurred mostly in distal intergenic regions and repetitive gene clusters (in particular genes encoding odorant-binding factors and zinc-finger antiviral proteins). In both cell types, H4K20me3 peaks were enriched in LINEs, ERVs, satellite DNA and low complexity repeats. In contrast, H4K20me3-free nucleosomes occurred more frequently in genic regions (in particular promoters, exons, 5′-UTR and 3′-UTR) and were enriched in genes encoding developmental factors (in particular transcription activators and repressors). H4K20me3-free nucleosomes were also detected in substantial quantities in distal intergenic regions and were enriched in SINEs. Thus, evidence suggests that paternally transmitted histones may have a dual purpose: maintenance and regulation of heterochromatin and guidance towards transcription of euchromatin.