DNA methylation plays essential roles in mammals. Of particular interest are parental methylation marks that originate from the oocyte or the sperm, and bring about mono-allelic gene expression at defined chromosomal regions. The remarkable somatic stability of these parental imprints in the pre-implantation embryo—where they resist global waves of DNA demethylation—is not fully understood despite the importance of this phenomenon. After implantation, some methylation imprints persist in the placenta only, a tissue in which many genes are imprinted. Again here, the underlying epigenetic mechanisms are not clear. Mouse studies have pinpointed the involvement of transcription factors, covalent histone modifications, and histone variants. These and other features linked to the stability of methylation imprints are instructive as concerns their conservation in humans, in which different congenital disorders are caused by perturbed parental imprints. Here, we discuss DNA and histone methylation imprints, and why unravelling maintenance mechanisms is important for understanding imprinting disorders in humans.
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