Epigenetic reprogramming is a critical step in male germ cell development that occurs during perinatal life. It is characterized by the remodeling of different epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation (5mC) and methylation of histone H3. It has been suggested that endocrine disruptors can affect the male germline epigenome by altering epigenetic reprogramming, but the mechanisms involved are still unknown. We have previously used an organ culture system that maintains the development of the different fetal testis cell types, to evaluate the effects of various endocrine disruptors on gametogenesis and steroidogenesis in the rat. We hypothesize that this culture model can reproduce the epigenetic reprogramming in gonocytes. Our aim was to establish the kinetics of three epigenetic marks throughout perinatal development in rats in vivo and compare them after different culture times.
Using immunofluorescence, we showed that H3K4me2 transiently increased in gonocytes at 18.5 days post-coitum (dpc), while H3K4me3 displayed a stable increase in gonocytes from 18.5 dpc until after birth. 5mC progressively increased from 20.5 dpc until after birth. Using GFP-positive gonocytes purified from GCS-EGFP rats, we established the chronology of re-methylation of H19 and Snrpn in rat gonocytes. Most importantly, using testis explanted at 16.5 or 18.5 dpc and cultured for 2-4 days, we demonstrated that the kinetics of changes in H3K4me2, H3K4me3, global DNA methylation and on parental imprints can generally be reproduced ex vivo with the model of organ culture without the addition of serum.
This study reveals the chronology of three epigenetic marks (H3K4me2, H3K4me3 and 5mC) and the patterns of methylation of H19 and Snrpn differentially methylated regions in rat gonocytes during perinatal development. Most importantly, our results suggest that the organ culture can reproduce the process of epigenetic reprogramming and can be used to study the impact of environmental chemicals on the establishment of the male germ cell epigenome.