Histone-lysine N-methyltransferase SETDB1 is required for development of the bovine blastocyst.
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Transcripts derived from select clades of transposable elements are among the first to appear in early mouse and human embryos, indicating transposable elements and the mechanisms that regulate their activity are fundamental to the establishment of the founding mammalian lineages. However, the mechanisms by which these parasitic sequences are involved in directing the developmental program are still poorly characterized. Transposable elements are regulated through epigenetic means, where combinatorial patterns of DNA methylation and histone 3 lysine 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3) suppress their transcription. From studies in rodents, SET domain bifurcated 1 (SETDB1) has emerged as the core methyltransferase responsible for marking transposable elements with H3K9me3 and temporally regulating their transcriptional activity. SETDB1 loss of function studies in mice reveal that although extraembryonic tissues do not require this methyltransferase, establishment of the embryo proper fails without it. As the bovine embryo initiates the processes of epigenetic programming earlier in the preimplantation phase, we sought to determine whether suppressing SETDB1 would block the formation of the inner cell mass. We report here that bovine SETDB1 transcripts are present throughout preimplantation development, and RNA interference-based depletion blocks embryo growth at the morula stage of development. Although we did not observe alterations in global histone methylation or transposable element transcription, we did observe increased global levels of H3K27 acetylation, an epigenetic mark associated with active enhancers. Our observations suggest that SETDB1 might interact with the epigenetic machinery controlling enhancer function and that suppression of this methyltransferase may disrupt the bovine developmental program.