Heat-induced and spontaneous expression of Hsp70.1Luciferase transgene copies localized on Xp22 in female bovine cells
© Lelièvre et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Received: 19 June 2009
Accepted: 22 January 2010
Published: 22 January 2010
Expression of several copies of the heat-inducible Hsp70.1Luciferase (LUC) transgene inserted at a single X chromosome locus of a bull (Bos taurus) was assessed in females after X-chromosome inactivation (XCI). Furthermore, impact of the chromosomal environment on the spontaneous expression of these transgene copies before XCI was studied during early development in embryos obtained after in vitro fertilization (IVF), when the locus was carried by the X chromosome inherited from the bull, and after somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) cloning, when the locus could be carried by the inactive Xi or the active Xa chromosome in a female donor cell, or by the (active) X in a male donor cell.
Transgene copies were mapped to bovine Xp22. In XX LUC female fibroblasts, i.e. after random XCI, the proportions of late-replicating inactive and early-replicating active X LUC chromosomes were not biased and the proportion of cells displaying an increase in the level of immunostained luciferase protein after heat-shock induction was similar to that in male fibroblasts. Spontaneous transgene expression occurred at the 8-16-cell stage both in transgenic (female) embryos obtained after IVF and in male and female embryos obtained after SCNT.
The X LUC chromosome is normally inactivated but at least part of the inactivated X-linked Hsp70.1Luciferase transgene copies remains heat-inducible after random XCI in somatic cells. Before XCI, the profile of the transgenes' spontaneous expression is independent of the epigenetic origin of the X LUC chromosome since it is similar in IVF female, SCNT male and SCNT female embryos.
Menck and colleagues have reported a luminescent screening system based on the integration of a transgene composed of scaffold attachment regions flanking the murine HSP70.1 gene promoter linked to firefly luciferase cDNA . Among the transgenic fetuses obtained, one male carried a cluster of 20 to 30 copies of the transgene . Later, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) cloning with cells from this fetus generated a healthy and fertile bull for which we have localized the transgenic cluster on the X chromosome (this report). Thus an interesting animal model was available to investigate the inactivation/activation status of transgenes in bovine female fetuses from this bull. Indeed, dosage compensation between male and females is achieved after X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) in mammalian female cells, i.e. one of the two X, the inactive X (Xi) chromosome, is in great part transcriptionally silent [2, 3]. At least in domestic mouse, XCI occurs in two waves early during development (reviewed in [2, 3]). First, both X chromosomes are transcriptionally active during a short developmental window of the cleavage phase. Then, most studies agree that the paternally inherited XP chromosome becomes inactivated by the blastocyst stage [2, 3] and also in most placental cells. In the epiblast cells, both X chromosomes are again transiently active, before random XCI during gastrulation . This results in a mosaic of two somatic cell types expressing X-linked genes inherited either from the mother or the father.
Some X-linked genes maintain bi-allelic expression in female cells [2, 3]. On the human submetacentric X chromosome, 5%  to 15%  of the genes escape inactivation; they are preferentially found in clusters and more frequently on the short arm than on the long arm [6, 7]. On the mouse acrocentric X chromosome, homologs of the human genes escaping inactivation are mostly inactivated and only two non-clustered genes with no homolog on the Y have been shown to escape inactivation . Thus, the phenomenon of inactivation escape may depend on genomic context, including either the absence of sequence elements necessary for silencing spreading [9, 10] or the presence of insulators/barriers that prevent XCI-coupled silencing [9, 11].
Similarly, XCI-related silencing of X-linked transgenes may depend on the insertion site, the transgene's intrinsic properties or other unknown factors. Furthermore, it may vary between cell lineages or during development ([11–15] and references therein), as reported for 10% of the human X-linked genes [6, 16] and one mouse X-linked gene .
Expression of an X-linked transgene has rarely been observed during early development and only in the domestic mouse [15, 18] in which surprisingly, one X-linked transgene has been shown to display delayed expression when paternally inherited .
Analysis of SCNT cloned embryos can provide further insight on how XCI influences gene expression. For an Xi-associated transgene, silencing reversion has been reported in SCNT cloned early mouse embryos  but for an autosomal insertion, transgene-related and/or position effect-related silencing was found unchanged in SCNT cloned cattle .
Indirect evidence suggests that bovine and mouse XCI profiles are quite similar. De La Fuente and colleagues  have shown that in some cells from bovine embryos the two X chromosomes replicate asynchronously, one early and one late in S phase, thus XCI is established at the blastocyst stage 7 days after in vitro fertilization (IVF) in cattle. Indeed, late replicating regions including the Xi are generally transcriptionally inactive while early-replicating regions including the Xa are generally transcriptionally active (except in the mouse immediately after imprinted XCI; ). Furthermore, two reports clearly indicate that the paternally-inherited X is preferentially inactivated in the placenta  or in the chorion only , suggesting that imprinted XCI takes place earlier in the associated cell lineage(s), i.e., at least in the trophoblast, at the blastocyst stage. In somatic bovine cells, both X are inactivated, [21, 22], suggesting that XCI occurs randomly in the bovine epiblast during gastrulation as in the mouse. To date, it has not been established whether some genes escape inactivation on the bovine X.
Several studies have shown that the expression of the Hsp70.1Luciferase transgene mimics that of the murine Hsp70.1 gene, i.e. the level of luciferase activity increases after heat-shock (HS) induction in both mouse and bovine transgenic embryonic and somatic cells and also spontaneously during embryonic genome activation (EGA) in early mouse transgenic embryos ( and references therein). To investigate whether some copies of the X-linked transgene remained inducible, we first analyzed the HS-induced luciferase activity and/or protein level in transgenic female somatic cells and blastocyst embryos. Second, we took advantage of the spontaneous activity of the transgene in early embryos before XCI and the relative success of SCNT cloning in cattle  to measure the influence on gene expression of the chromosomal environment inherited from spermatozoa or from male and female cells in early IVF embryos and SCNT embryos respectively.
Materials and methods
All samples were generated according to the International Guiding Principles for Biomedical Research involving animals of experimental farms. The research work on cloned animals was approved by COMEPRA (Ethical and Precaution Committee for Agronomic Research Application) in December 1999.
The remaining of this section is found in [additional file 1: Material and methods].
Results and discussion
Transgenes are located on the X chromosome of the transgenic bull
In XXLUC somatic female cells inactivation frequencies of both X are similar
Since XCI occurs randomly in the somatic bovine lineages [21, 22], about half of the transgenic female somatic cells are expected to have an active X LUC chromosome inherited from the bull. Presence of a strong bias would indicate preferential inactivation of one of the X or preferential survival of the cells that inactivate one X. Although normal random XCI is reported for mouse and bovine clones [18, 21, 22, 26], it was important to check whether this was the case in IVF females carrying the X of the transgenic bull since the bull was obtained by SCNT cloning, a technique which can result in developmental anomalies generally associated with abnormal epigenetic processes .
Analysis of metaphase chromosome spreads prepared from synchronized female XX LUC fibroblast cells cultured in the presence of BrdU during late S phase showed no bias. An equivalent number of BrdU-labeled X chromosomes or inactive Xi (N = 22) and partly BrdU-labeled X chromosomes or active Xa (N = 21) carried copies of the transgene. Furthermore, the transgenes' presence had no visible influence on Xp22 inactivation/activation since the X LUC p22 region replicates late on the Xi (Figure 1B) and on the normal X . Thus, inactivation of the X carried by the bull's sperm is normal, which indicates that the presence of multiple copies of the transgene on either Xi or Xa is not toxic (counter-selected) to cell physiology and does not interfere with random XCI.
Proportions of cells expressing the luciferase protein after heat-shock induction are similar in X LUC Y male and XX LUC female population of cultured fibroblasts
Heat-shock response vs. sex in bovine fibroblast cells carrying the Hsp70.1Luciferase transgenes
Origin of the fibroblast cultures
Mean luciferase specific activitya RLU.μg protein-1.min-1 ± SD
Immunostained luciferase-positive cells after heat shock b
After heat shock
Transgenic adult bull "OV7060"
Male (X LUC Y)
205 ± 76
2.58 × 106 ± 0.32 × 106
Transgenic fetus "BSF731"
Female (X LUC X)
315 ± 79
0.99 × 106 ± 0.13 × 106
Transgenic fetus "F616"
Female (X LUC X)
2.62 × 106 ± 0.35 × 106
Rate of increase in luciferase activity in fetal and placental female tissues after heat shocka
Origin of biopsyb
Rate of increase after HSc
The pattern of spontaneous Hsp70.1Luciferase transgene activity during early development was conserved in all bovine embryos
Changes in luciferase activity and in the percentage of luciferase-positive embryos during early development
Number of embryos
Luciferase activity (RLU. min-1. embryo-1)
325 ± 175*
20940 ± 5790
36540 ± 8900
3000 ± 1880
370 ± 330
% positive embryos
Number of embryos
Luciferase activity (RLU. min-1. embryo-1)
33500 ± 7056
13700 ± 3120
1400 ± 446
480 ± 165
% positive embryos
Number of embryos
Luciferase activity (RLU. min-1. embryo-1)
515 ± 140
2240 ± 300
9915 ± 1490
525 ± 337
% positive embryos
Before nuclear transfer, the BSF731 female donor cells carried the transgenes either on the Xa or the Xi with a similar probability (see above). However, in female BSF731-derived SCNT embryos, we found no evidence for two sub-populations displaying two different levels and patterns of luciferase activity and the standard error to the mean was similar to that observed in the two other embryo types (Table 3). This indicates that after cloning, the number of active genes was similar in these female SCNT embryos as expected if their XCI-dependent silencing in the donor cell was not achieved (as suggested from Table 1; Figure 2) or was reverted after cloning . In turn, the variation in HS response of BSF731 fibroblast cells may result either from a variable number of inactivated transgenes on the Xi or from a variable HS response in the BSF731 cell population.
Since the Hsp70.1Luciferase transgene can be similarly active at the 8-16-cell stage in both IVF and cloned embryos, this further suggests that neither the paternal origin of the transgenic X LUC in the case of IVF embryos, nor the origin, male or female, of the somatic cells, in the case of SCNT embryos, prevented spontaneous, oocyte-driven, expression of the X-linked transgenes.
We detected an increased level of luciferase activity after heat-shock induction in IVF female blastocysts [additional File 3 Additional Table S1] and placental tissue (Table 2) in which imprinted XCI, i.e. inactivation of the paternally-inherited X LUC , is expected. However, we cannot yet conclude whether the transgenes escaped inactivation after imprinted XCI since the presence of cells in which XCI had not occurred or had occurred randomly is likely.
In conclusion, using a species other than mouse and different approaches we have investigated the expression of an X-linked transgene to determine its innocuousness as well as that of the transgene insertion site, and to test its sensitivity to XCI-dependent or -independent silencing. The results indicate that the transgenic X inherited from the cloned bull is normally inactivated/activated in somatic female cells and that at least some of the transgene copies at this locus escape XCI-coupled silencing in these cells. Whether this is due to HS-dependent [28, 29] or HS-independent  properties of the transgene, to the insertion site and/or to the creation of a new genomic environment remains to be determined.
We are indebted to two anonymous referees and to the editor for helpful comments. We thank Yvette Lavergne, Rose-Marie Placide, Matthieu Chamand and Etienne Laloy for their technical help and kindness in the initial phase of this project and Dr Gilles Charpigny for his help on the SYSTAT software. The expertise of Dr Michel Guillomot and Dr Yvan Heyman, and of all the staff of the UCEA experimental farm in Bressonvilliers is greatly acknowledged for recovering the transgenic female fetuses and the semen.
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