An Epigenetic Signature
for Monoallelic Olfactory
Angeliki Magklara,1Angela Yen,4,5,7Bradley M. Colquitt,2,7E. Josephine Clowney,3,7William Allen,6
Eirene Markenscoff-Papadimitriou,2Zoe A. Evans,1Pouya Kheradpour,4,5George Mountoufaris,1Catriona Carey,1
Gilad Barnea,6Manolis Kellis,4,5and Stavros Lomvardas1,2,3,*
1Department of Anatomy
2Program in Neurosciences
3Program in Biomedical Sciences
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA
4Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA
5Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
6Department of Neuroscience, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
7These authors contributed equally to this work
Constitutive heterochromatin is traditionally viewed
as the static form of heterochromatin that silences
pericentromeric and telomeric repeats in a cell cycle-
and differentiation-independent manner. Here, we
receptor (OR) genes are marked in a highly dynamic
fashion with the molecular hallmarks of constitutive
heterochromatin, H3K9me3 and H4K20me3. The cell
type and developmentally dependent deposition of
these marks along the OR clusters are, most likely,
reversed during the process of OR choice to allow
for monogenic and monoallelic OR expression. In
contrast to the current view of OR choice, our data
suggest that OR silencing takes place before OR
expression, indicating that it is not the product of an
OR-elicited feedback signal. Our findings suggest
that chromatin-mediated silencing lays a molecular
tion for gene expression can be applied.
In mammals, olfactory perception is accomplished by detection
of volatile chemicals in the olfactory epithelium and transmission
of the odorant information to the brain, where it is processed.
Unlike other sensory systems, olfaction relies on a large family
of OR genes that are expressed in a monogenic and monoallelic
fashion in olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) (Buck and Axel,
1991; Chess et al., 1994). OSNs that express the same OR
converge to the same glomerulus in the olfactory bulb (Axel,
2005). ORs participate both in odor detection and in guiding
the axons to the proper glomeruli, ascribing this way the func-
tional identity of each neuron (Imai et al., 2010). The dual role
of ORs in the wiring and physiology of the olfactory system
emphasizes the importance of their proper expression. Each
neuron faces the challenging task of expressing one OR allele
at high levels while keeping the rest of the repertoire completely
silent. The effective repression of the nonchosen alleles iscrucial
for this system; due to the exceptionally high number of family
members, basal transcription from the nonchosen ORs would
result in thousands of inappropriately expressed OR molecules.
Although each individual OR would have insignificant represen-
tation, all together they would generate OR activity comparable
to the one from the chosen allele, likely resulting in wiring pertur-
bations and subsequent sensory confusion.
In the mouse, ?1400 ORs are expressed in the main olfactory
epithelium (MOE) in a spatial and temporal fashion that could be
organized by positional cues. Within a zone of expression,
however, each neuron expresses only one out of several
hundred alleles that have the potential to be transcribed in that
particular region in a seemingly stochastic fashion (Shykind,
2005). Genetic experiments suggest that the production of OR
protein elicits a feedback signal that stabilizes the expression
of the encoding allele and prevents the activation of additional
OR genes (Lewcock and Reed, 2004; Serizawa et al., 2003;
Shykind et al., 2004). Moreover, there is evidence that the OR
coding sequence represses heterologous promoters, suggest-
ing that it contains important information for the regulation of
OR expression (Nguyen et al., 2007). Regulatory information is
also included in proximal promoter sequences of OR genes, as
well as in distant enhancer elements (Rothman et al., 2005;
Serizawa et al., 2003). One of them, the H enhancer, interacts
with active OR alleles in cis or trans, which led us to propose
that this interaction might be instructive for OR expression
(Lomvardas etal.,2006). However,genetic ablation of Hdisrupts
the expression of only three proximal ORs, disputing a model in
et al., 2007; Nishizumi et al., 2007). Thus, despite immense
Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc. 555
Figure 1. Genome-wide Mapping of H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 Reveals a Tissue-Dependent Heterochromatinization of the ORs in the MOE
ChIP-on-chip experiments with antibodies against H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 using native chromatin preparations from the MOE and liver. The log2 ratio of
IP/input was calculated and used for the construction of the heatmaps presented here.
556 Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc.
efforts, the molecular mechanisms regulating the activation of
one OR allele and the stable transcriptional repression of the
rest remain unknown.
Chromatin-mediated silencing constitutes an effective form of
transcriptional repression. There are distinct forms of transcrip-
tionally inactive chromatin known as heterochromatin. Faculta-
tive heterochromatin, a term assigned to the chromatin structure
of silenced genes, is generally hypoacetylated and has di- and
trimethyl groups on lysine 27 and/or dimethyl groups on lysine
9 of histone H3. This type of heterochromatin is dynamic and
appears to be developmentally regulated (Trojer and Reinberg,
2007). In contrast, constitutive heterochromatin, characterized
by the trimethylation of lysine 9 and lysine 20 of histones H3
and H4 (H3K9me3 and H4K20me3, respectively) is mostly found
on pericentromericand telomeric
condensed during the cell cycle and stable during differentiation
(Fodor et al., 2010).
Here, we test the hypothesis that chromatin-mediated
silencing prevents the inappropriate expression of multiple OR
genes in each sensory neuron. Our data show that, in the
MOE, OR genes are subject to an unusual form of heterochro-
matic silencing that combines characteristics of both constitu-
tive and facultative heterochromatin. Our ChIP-on-chip experi-
ments reveal high levels of H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 on OR
loci. The cell type and differentiation-dependent deposition of
these trimethyl marks on OR clusters lead to the formation of
compacted and inaccessible heterochromatic macrodomains.
Surprisingly, heterochromatic compaction of OR clusters occurs
before OR transcription and does not require OR expression,
suggesting that it is not the product of an OR-elicited feedback
signal. The enrichment for these silent marks is significantly
reduced on an active OR allele, which is marked instead with
trimethylated lysine 4 of histone H3 (H3K4me3). Insertion of
a reporter transgene within such a heterochromatic macrodo-
main results in its effective chromatin-mediated silencing in the
majority of the olfactory neurons and the subsequent OR-like
expression of this transgene, indicating that stochastic escape
from heterochromatic silencing could be the basis of monogenic
and monoallelic gene expression.
Whole-Genome Analysis of H3K9me3 and H4K20me3
in the MOE
We performed chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) experi-
ments with antibodies against all methylated forms of H3K9,
H3K27, and H4K20 using native chromatin preparations from
MOE, hippocampus, liver, or mouse embryonic fibroblasts.
Preliminary experiments showed that the tested OR sequences
were enriched for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 in the MOE,
whereas in the other cell types, there was significant enrichment
only for H3K9me2 (data not shown).
To examine the distribution of the two heterochromatic marks
on all ORs, we performed ChIP-on-chip experiments using
Nimblegen whole-genome tiling arrays with immunoprecipitated
DNA from MOE and liver. We found that most ORs are hyperme-
thylated on H3K9 and H4K20 in the MOE, but not in the liver. The
distribution of the two modifications along chromosomes 2, 7,
and 9, which contain large OR genomic clusters, is depicted as
heatmaps in Figure 1A, where genes are ordered by chromo-
somal position. Most genes, independently of their transcription
status,appeartobedevoidofboth modificationsinboth tissues.
However, in the MOE, there is significant enrichment for
H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 on ORs. The high enrichment for the
two modifications combined with the tandem chromosomal
organization of these genes highlights the position of each OR
cluster in these three chromosomes (Figure 1A). Vomeronasal
receptor (VR) genes, which encode monoallelically expressed
receptors that detect pheromones (Dulac and Axel, 1995), are
also enriched for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 in the MOE
(Figure 1A, chromosome 7). ORs and VRs are hypomethylated
in the liver, in agreement with published observations that report
the complete absence or the low abundance of these marks on
OR genes in numerous cell types (Celniker et al., 2009; Hawkins
et al., 2010; Larson and Yuan, 2010).
A Heterochromatic Signature for Chemoreceptors
To obtain a global view of our ChIP-on-chip data, we ranked the
mouse genes based on the average signal intensity of H3K9me3
and H4K20me3 over a region of 2Kb (Figures 1B and 1C), using
the translational start site (TSS) as a coordinate for the alignment
sive manner, we included only every 15th mouse gene in the
presentation, although the analysis was performed for all of the
genes. In Figure 1B, 1000 randomly selected genes are ranked
in descending order by their enrichment values for the two modi-
fications. OR genes, depicted by blue lines at the side of the
heatmap, are clustered on the very top, showing that they are
the most enriched genes for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 in the
MOE. In a zoomed-in view of the top 1000 genes (Figure 1C),
ment for both trimethyl marks (p < 10?7). Sequential ChIPs with
chromatin from the MOE confirmed the simultaneous presence
of these marks on OR chromatin (Figure S1A available online).
Notably, as shown also in Figure 1A, the evolutionary older
type I OR genes that are organized in a unique cluster on
(A) Positional heatmaps of chromosomes 2, 7, and 9 are shown. Each row represents one gene in 1 kb windows from ?5 kb to +5 kb of the TSS. Four states are
shown as adjacent columns: liver-H3K9me3, OE-H3K9me3, liver-H4K20me3, and OE-H4K20me3. Arrows indicate OR, V1R, and V2R clusters found on these
(B) Ranked heatmap illustrating 1000 randomly selected genes (?1 in 15 genes). Each row represents one gene in 200 bp windows from ?1 kb to +1 kb of the
translation start site. The ORs (blue lines) make up the vast majority of the genes that are positive for both modifications and are placed at the top of the heatmap.
The red lines represent VRs and FPRs.
(C) Ranked heatmap, constructed as the previous one but showing the top 1000 genes that are positive for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 in the MOE. Most of these
genes are ORs that also rank the highest, as depicted by the blue lines next to the heatmap.
See also Figure S1.
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Figure 2. OR Clusters in the MOE Are Coated by Tissue-Specific Heterochromatic Blocks of H3K9me3 and H4K20me3
Ma2C analysis of our ChIP-on-chip data viewed on the UCSC genome browser.
(A) Part of the biggest OR cluster located on chromosome 2, which contains ?240 genes and spans a 5 MB region. The thin blue (H3K9me3) or red (H4K20me3)
bars represent significant peaks (FDR % 5%) identified in the MOE by MA2C using standard parameters (window = 0.5 kb, min number of probes = 5, max gap =
0.25 kb); the thick blue or red bars represent the blocks identified with modified parameters (window = 10 kb, min number of probes = 20, max gap = 1 kb). In the
liver, there are only a few sporadic H3K9me3 peaks and blocks (purple).
558 Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc.
chromosome 7 have the lowest enrichment values among ORs.
Most of the non-OR genes that are enriched for H3K9me3 and
H4K20me3, represented by red lines in Figures 1B and 1C, are
also chemoreceptors, namely VRs and formyl-peptide receptors
(FPRs), which are also clustered in extremely AT-rich isochores
and likely follow the same regulatory logic as ORs (Figures S1B
and S1C) (Dulac and Axel, 1995; Liberles et al., 2009; Rivie `re
et al., 2009). Unlike chemoreceptors, the KRAB-ZFP genes are
heterochromatinized also in the liver and in other cell types
(Barski et al., 2007; O’Geen et al., 2007).
Heterochromatic Macrodomains Cover the OR Clusters
in the MOE
To identify significant sites of enrichment within OR clusters,
we used the Ma2C algorithm (Song et al., 2007). Using a sliding
window of 0.5 Kb and FDR % 5%, we observed that, in
the MOE, the peaks for the two histone modifications were
contained in broadly enriched genomic regions spreading
throughout the OR clusters in an almost continuous arrange-
ment (Figure 2A). Modification of the Ma2C parameters so
that local signal fluctuations would be averaged over a larger
sliding window of 10 Kb confirmed that H3K9me3 and
H4K20me3 form heterochromatic macrodomains (blocks) that
cover megabases of clustered OR genes in the MOE (Figure 2A).
Using this analysis, we found that 1376 ORs fall in H4K20me3
blocks and 1109 ORs fall in H3K9me3 blocks, out of a total
of 1441 annotated OR genes (Figure S1D) (p < 10?7). The
presence of heterochromatic macrodomains over OR clusters
was also confirmed by the application of an independent
algorithm that was developed and used for the detection of
long stretches of H3K9me2 in the liver, brain, and ES cells
(Figures S2A and S2B) (Wen et al., 2009). In contrast to our
findings in the MOE, there are only few H3K9me3 and
H4K20me3 peaks and blocks on the ORs in the liver (Figure 2A)
that do not overlap and are not confirmed by qPCR (see below).
As an independent estimate of the H3K9me3 and H4K20me3
enrichment on OR loci in the two tissues, we combined multiple
ChIPs and analyzed them by Southern blot. As a probe, we
used a ?600 bp reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain
reaction (RT-PCR) product, generated by a degenerate primer
pair, which contains several hundred OR sequences (Buck
and Axel, 1991). As seen in Figure S2C, the OR hybridization
signal of the H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 ChIPs from the MOE
is significantly higher than the signal in the liver. We further
validated our ChIP-on-chip and ChIP-Southern results by
ChIP-qPCR for multiple OR gene clusters in both tissues. Repre-
sentative data are shown in Figures 2B and 2C and Figures S2E
and S2F. Interestingly, the external borders of the heterochro-
matic blocks coating the OR clusters coincide with the borders
of the OR genomic loci (Figures 2A and 2D). The reported
binding of CTCF outside of OR clusters (Kim et al., 2007),
or other insulating elements (Dickson et al., 2010), might
contribute to the confinement of OR heterochromatin within
the OR clusters.
In few instances, embedding transcriptionally active non-OR
genes in an OR cluster interrupts the heterochromatin blocks
until the presence of another OR reconstitutes them (Fig-
ures 2D-2G). In contrast, genes that are not transcribed in the
MOE are partially covered by heterochromatin marks, suggest-
ing that, in the absence of a competing transcriptional state or
an insulating activity, the OR heterochromatin can extend to
the body of non-OR genes within an OR cluster.
Characterization of the OR Heterochromatin
Our data demonstrate that OR clusters in the MOE fall in silent
domains marked by H3K9me3 and H4K20me3, whereas, in the
liver, they are enriched only for H3K9me2. To determine
whether there are functional differences stemming from these
chromatin modifications, we treated nuclei from MOE and liver
with DNase I and examined the accessibility of different loci
by qPCR analysis of the recovered DNA. As seen in Figure 3A
and Figures S3A and S3B, there is significant difference in
DNase I sensitivity of ORs between the two tissues. In MOE,
OR genes get hardly digested, even after 40 min of incubation
with DNase I, suggesting an inaccessible chromatin structure.
In contrast, transcriptionally active genes are rapidly digested,
and silent non-OR genes have intermediate accessibility prop-
erties. In liver, OR loci are indistinguishable from other genes
regarding their DNase I accessibility (Figure 3A). The DNase
I-qPCR data were also confirmed by a different method. DNA
with similar size distribution, extracted from DNase treated
nuclei from MOE and liver, was subjected to Southern blot anal-
ysis using the degenerate OR probe described earlier. As seen
in Figure S3C, hybridization signal intensity is stronger in the
MOE than in the liver, but most importantly, the signal in the
MOE is concentrated to the larger DNA fragments, providing
additional evidence that OR chromatin is less accessible in
the MOE. Hybridization of the same membrane with a ribosomal
(B)Results from H3K9me3 ChIP-qPCR analysisusingnative chromatin preparations from MOEand liver.The Ptprj gene (markedby redrectangle in2A) standsat
theborder oftheOR cluster, whichcoincides withtheborder of theheterochromaticblock. Its most proximal—to theORcluster—intron is enriched for H3K9me3
and H4K20me3, and its most distal intron, located 43 kb downstream, is free of these modifications. Zfp560 serves as positive control.
(C) Same as (B) but for H4K20me3.
(D) Part of an OR cluster on chromosome 11 is interrupted by a small group of non-OR. Genes that are marked by a green rectangle are transcriptionally active in
the MOE, and genes marked by red rectangles do not have detectable transcripts.
(E) Zoomed-in picture of the cluster, which shows that genes Btnl9 and Flt4, which are transcriptionally inactive, are partly methylated. Two sets of primers for
each of these genes, one at the beginning (most proximal to the neighboring OR gene) and one at the end of the gene (most distal from the neighboring OR), were
used in ChIP-qPCR.
Flt4 genes were enriched. In contrast, the active genes Mgat1 and Mapk9, Zfp879, and the distal part of Btnl9 and Flt4 were devoid of modifications.
(G) Same as (F) but for H4K20me3.
All above experiments were performed in two biological replicates with similar results. Values are the mean of triplicate qPCR. Error bars indicate the SEM. See
also Figure S2.
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Figure 3. The ORs Acquire a Highly Compacted Chromatin Structure in the MOE
(A) DNase I accessibility assay with nuclei from both MOE and liver. Nuclei were treated with DNase I, DNA was isolated at various time points (2–40 min), and
equal amounts were used for qPCR. The amount of DNA measured at each interval was expressed as a fraction of the DNA present at 2 min of enzyme treatment
and was plotted overtime. We assayed several ORs as well as genes that are active or inactive in the MOE or liver, and their mean is shown here (see Figures S3A
and S3B for detailed analysis of all genes). Representative data from one experiment are shown here.
in the fractions with the highest sucrose concentration. For a particular fragment size, the most compact chromatin is collected in more concentrated fractions.
(D) Selected fractions from the same experiment analyzed with the use of a ribosomal probe.
See also Figure S3.
560 Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc.
probe shows that the digestion differences do not reflect
universal differences between the two tissues.
To test directly the idea that OR heterochromatin has a more
compacted chromatin arrangement in the MOE, we examined
the buoyancy properties of OR chromatin (Ghirlando et al.,
2004; Gilbert et al., 2004). We performed limited MNase diges-
tion of MOE and liver chromatin followed by ultracentrifugation
in sucrose gradient (4%–60%) (Figure 3B). MNase digests
native chromatin independently of the compaction levels or
the transcriptional state of each locus (Weintraub and Grou-
dine, 1976). Thus, digestion with MNase produces chromatin
fragments of similar length distribution in the two tissues (Fig-
ure 3C). Chromatin fractions were collected from top to bottom,
and the DNA was analyzed by gel electrophoresis and Southern
blot. Figure 3C shows that the distribution of OR DNA is
dramatically different across fractions from the two tissues. In
the liver preparation, the strongest OR signal appears in the
second and third fractions. In contrast, in the MOE, there is
OR DNA in the first fractions but also a substantial signal in
the bottom five fractions (depicted by arrows). Importantly,
the signal in the fractions that correspond to the highest
sucrose concentration comes from OR DNA of lower molecular
weight, consistentlywith highly
Selected fractions from the same preparation analyzed by
a ribosomal probe verified the specificity of OR chromatin
compaction in the MOE (Figure 3D).
OR Silencing Is Independent of OR Expression
The MOE is a heterogeneous tissue composed of multiple cell
types (Duggan and Ngai, 2007) (Figure S4A). Although OSNs
comprise the majority of cells in our dissections, we sought to
in the OR-expressing neurons. For this reason, we performed
followed by ChIP-qPCR.
We isolated mature OSNs from OMP-IRES-GFP mice (Fig-
ure 4A), and as seen in Figure 4B, the OR genes tested have
high levels of enrichment for both H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 in
these cells. Although mature OSNs express ORs, each OR
gene is expressed in 0.1% of the cells; thus, it is not surprising
that we detect silencing marks on them. The confirmation,
however, that ORs are heterochromatinized in OSNs raises
questions of whether this silencing is induced by OR expression
as a consequence of the feedback signal. To address this, we
sorted sustentacular cells from the MOE with the use of SUS4
antibody (Chen et al., 2004). Sustentacular cells line the apical
mental ancestors with the OSNs, but they do not express ORs
(Figure 4H). Figure 4D shows that, in sustentacular cells, the
levels of H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 on ORs are comparable to
the levels of these marks in mature OSNs, suggesting that
marking of OR genes with H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 occurs in
the absence of OR expression. In this scenario, it is possible
that trimethylation of lysines 9 and 20 takes place before OR
To explore this possibility, we performed ChIP-qPCR analysis
in progenitor cells, starting with the most multipotent cells of the
MOE, the horizontal basal cells (HBCs) (Leung et al., 2007), by
sorting ICAM-1+cells (Carter et al., 2004) (Figure 4E). As seen
in Figure 4F, there is no enrichment for H3K9me3 and
H4K20me3 on OR genes, whereas the pericentromeric repeats
and theKRAB-ZFP genes(Zfp560)arealready hypermethylated.
Interestingly, we detect high signal for H3K9me2 on ORs in the
HBCs (Figure S4B), showing that, in this multipotent state, ORs
are repressed via different mechanisms.
We also examined the chromatin state of OR genes in other
progenitor cells from the MOE that are negative for OMP,
ICAM-1, immature laminin receptor (iLR) (another marker for
multipotent basal cells [Jang et al., 2007]), and SUS4. As seen
in Figure 4G, in this population, the enrichment for H3K9me3
This quadruple-negative population does not express ORs at
levels that are detectable by RT-PCR (Figure 4H). The above
data suggest that trimethylation of ORs occurs at a stage
preceding OR expression.
To examine a better-defined progenitor cell population, we
obtained a Neurogenin1-GFP (Ngn1-GFP) BAC transgenic
reporter mouse from GENSAT (Heintz, 2004). As expected,
GFP+cells appear in the basal layer of the MOE in sections of
this strain (Figures 5A and 5B), consistent with the reported
expression of Ngn1 (Cau et al., 2002). RT-PCR analysis showed
that these cells represent a mixed population of progenitors and
immature neurons (Figure S5A). Immunofluorescence with
anti-MOR28, M50, and M71 antibodies (Barnea et al., 2004) in
sections of the transgenic mice verified the mutually exclusive
expression of ORs and Ngn1 (Figures 5A and 5B). However,
for a more sensitive and global view of the levels of OR transcrip-
tion in the Ngn1+cells, we performed deep sequencing with
cDNA from Ngn1+and OMP+cells (see Table S1). We detected
transcripts for 1185 OR genes in the mature OSNs with an
average of 8-fold higher mRNA levels than in the Ngn1+cells
(Figures 5C and 5D). Importantly, in the Ngn1+cells, ?95% of
OR genes have transcript levels similar to the transcript
levels of silent genes (data not shown). The low levels of OR
mRNA in these cells probably reflect a small percentage of
sensitivity of RNaseq. In agreement, 25 genes that constitute
markers of mature OSNs (Sammeta et al., 2007) are also de-
tected in low levels in the Ngn1 sample, at a similar 7-fold
FACS and ChIP-qPCR analysis of the Ngn1+cells revealed
high levels of enrichment for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 on
ORs, demonstrating similar heterochromatic signature with the
mature OSNs (Figure 5E). Had only the few OR-expressing cells
contributed the H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 signal on OR genes,
the trimethylation signal would have also been 8-fold lower in
the Ngn1+cells. Therefore, the ChIP-qPCR data from the
quadruple-negative cells and Ngn1+cells are consistent with
H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 having been deposited on OR genes
before OR expression.
To test the consequences of the transition of di- to trimethyla-
tion in the chromatin structure of ORs, during MOE differentia-
tion, we performed the same DNase I-Southern blot analysis
described earlier, using FAC sorted ICAM1+, Ngn1+, and
OMP+cells. Figure 5F demonstrates that the differentiation of
HBCs to Ngn1+cells coincides with increased protection from
detected bythe extreme
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Figure 4. ChIP-qPCR Assays for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 in Sorted Cell Populations from the MOE
(A) Section of the MOE from an adult OMP-IRES-GFP mouse. Mature OSNs are GFP+.
(B) GFP+cells (mature OSNs) were isolated with FACS from OMP-IRES-GFP mice and were used for ChIP-qPCR experiments. Golf, Tbp, and Omp are active
genes in these cells and are used as negative controls. Zfp560 and major satellite repeats are used as positive controls. Olfr690 is a type I OR.
(C) Immunostaining of MOE section with SUS4 antibody that specifically labels the sustentacular cells.
(D) ChIP-qPCR with isolated sustentacular cells. Cbr is an active gene and is used as a negative control.
562 Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc.
DNase I digestion, suggesting that this epigenetic transition
results in a less accessible OR chromatin structure retained in
An ‘‘Epigenetic’’ Switch Accompanies OR Choice
To test whether the active OR allele is free of H3K9me3/
H4K20me3, we enriched, by FACS, for neurons expressing
the olfactory receptor P2 from P2-IRES-GFP knocked in
mice. We isolated ?40,000 GFP+and GFP?neurons from
P2-IRES-GFP heterozygote mice and performed ChIP-qPCR
for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3. To monitor specifically the active
allele, we used a primer pair for GFP, which follows the epige-
netic properties of the P2 locus (data not shown), and a primer
pair specific for the wild-type P2 (p2WT) to monitor the inactive
allele (Figure 6A). As seen in Figures 6B, 6C, and 6F, the enrich-
ment for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 is significantly reduced on
the active OR allele, compared to the enrichment of the inactive
allele or the enrichment of the same sequence in the GFP?
population. Olfr177, which is expressed in a different zone
than P2, is also highly enriched for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3,
suggesting that the primary function of this silencing mecha-
nism is not the restriction of OR expression within a zone.
Notably, the levels of H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 on the active
allele are reduced, but not eliminated. Control experiments in
which the GFP+population was checked for purity indicated
that there was ?30% contamination, a result that was
expected because we were sorting for an extremely rare pop-
ulation (?0.05% of total cells in the MOE). To obtain a pure
population, we performed a double FACS experiment; the
GFP+cells were sorted again, resulting in a > 95% GFP+pop-
ulation. For this experiment, we used MOR28-IRES-GFP
heterozygote knockin mice, which provide more GFP+cells
than the P2-IRES-GFP mice. As seen in Figures 6D and 6E,
ChIP-qPCRs from this extremely pure population provide
strong evidence that H3K9me3 is absent from the transcription-
ally active MOR28 allele.
To further examine the epigenetic state of the active allele, we
performed ChIP-qPCR in P2-expressing neurons using an anti-
body against H3K4me3, which is found on active and poised
promoters (Guenther et al., 2007) and has a mutually exclusive
distribution with H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 (Regha et al.,
2007). In agreement with this incompatibility, H3K4me3 cannot
be detected on OR promoters using chromatin preparations
from the whole MOE (data not shown). As seen in Figure 6G,
only in the GFP+population is there high enrichment for
H3K4me3 on the P2 promoter and CDS, supporting the idea
that activation of the P2 allele correlates with the removal of
H3K9me3 and H4K20me3. Although H3K4me3 is very abundant
throughout the active P2 allele, it is missing from the neighboring
P3 and P4 genes (Figure 6G and Figures S6A and S6B), despite
the sequence similarity between these genes and their expres-
sion in the same zone. Expression analysis of P2-GFP+cells
Heterochromatic Marks Induce Silencing
and OR-like Expression
Our data suggest that heterochromatinization of OR loci
prevents the simultaneous expression of every OR gene in every
OSN. To test whether this heterochromatic structure can influ-
ence gene expression, we examined a transgenic mouse, in
which an OMP promoter-driven LacZ transgene had been
inserted proximal to a singular OR gene (Olfr459). Unlike
numerous OMP-LacZ- or OMP-GFP-independent transgenes
that are expressed in the majority of olfactory neurons (Nguyen
et al., 2007; Walters et al., 1996), this transgene is silent in
99.9% of the neurons and has a sporadic and mostly zonal
expression reminiscent of that of the neighboring OR (Pyrski
et al., 2001).
We reasoned that this transgene is inserted within the hetero-
chromatic block flanking Olfr459. Unlike non-OR genes located
in OR clusters, which probably developed insulating mecha-
nisms that prevented heterochromatic silencing (e.g., Mgat1 in
Figure 2D), transgenes are influenced by the local chromatin
architecture. Mapping the exact insertion site of this transgene
revealed that it resides ?55 kbs from Olfr459 (Figure 7A).
ChIP-qPCR experiments showed that the insertion site is heter-
ochromatinized in wild-type mice and remained so after the
transgenic insertion (Figures 7B and 7C). ChIP-qPCR on chro-
matin prepared from the transgenic mice confirms that this
reporter is marked by H3K9me3/H4K20me3 in an MOE-depen-
dent fashion, in contrast to the endogenous OMP promoter,
which is unmethylated (Figure 7C).
To examine whether the insertion of the OMP transgene within
OR-heterochromatin also results in monoallelic expression, we
compared the number of b-gal+cells between homo- and
heterozygous mice. As seen in Figure 7D, OMP-LacZ homozy-
gotes have in average 1.8-fold more b-gal+cells, consistent
with a monoallelic expression pattern that clearly does not
stem from the promoter properties of OMP. Finally, to test
whether this reporter is under the transcriptional control of the
OR locus, as indicated by the epigenetic influence of the locus,
we crossed this transgenic mouse with the Emx2 knockout
mice (Pellegrini et al., 1996). Emx2 is required for the expression
of Olfr459 and most OR genes, but it does not have significant
effects on OMP expression (McIntyre et al., 2008). Figure S7
shows that the reporter expression is abolished in the Emx2
KO mice, suggesting that this transgene conforms to the regula-
tory logic of the neighboring OR.
(E) Immunostaining of MOE section with an antibody against ICAM-1 (PE-ICAM-1) that specifically labels the HBCs.
(F) ChIP-qPCR experiments with isolated HBCs.
(G) ChIP-qPCR with immature neurons and progenitors from the MOE isolated by collecting OMP?, ICAM?, iLR?, and Sus4?cells (quadruple negative).
(H) RNA isolated from combined OMP-GFP+,sustentacular, and basal cells or quadruple-negative cells wasused inqRT-PCR reactions with primers for different
ORs. Actin was used as endogenous control.
All above experiments were performed in at least two biological replicates with similar results. Values shown here are the mean of triplicate qPCRs. Error bars
represent the SEM. See also Figure S4.
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564 Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc.
OR choice is a seemingly stochastic process that culminates in
the expression of one out of ?2800 OR alleles under poorly
understood molecular mechanisms. Here, we show that the hall-
marks ofconstitutive heterochromatin,
H4K20me3, are deposited on OR loci in the MOE. The extensive
marking of OR genes by these methyl groups results in the
generation of compacted heterochromatic macrodomains that
are likely incompatible with transcription. In agreement with an
instructive role of this chromatin structure in gene expression,
insertion of an OMP-LacZ transgene in OR heterochromatin
results in the transcriptional silencing of this reporter in
?99.9% of the OSNs, leading to an OR-like, sporadic, and likely
The genome-wide ChIP-on-chip analysis presented here
provides a rare example for the involvement of H3K9 and
H4K20 trimethylation in transcriptional choices in addition to
their function in telomeric and pericentromeric silencing. Consis-
tent with a role in OR regulation, H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 mark
OR genes in the MOE in a developmentally regulated fashion.
They are added to the—already repressed via H3K9me2—OR
chromatin during the transition from HBCs to immature OSNs
and are possibly removed later from a single OR allele with
remarkable precision, as the neighboring ORs remain hetero-
chromatinized. Therefore, our data describe an unusual form of
silencing that combines characteristics of both constitutive and
facultative heterochromatin; OR heterochromatin has the same
molecular and biochemical characteristics as the pericentro-
meric and telomeric heterochromatin, but it is dynamic and it
depends on the identity of the cell and its differentiation state.
Different Repressive Methyl Marks Induce Distinct
The finding that ORs are kept inactive in most tissues examined
via H3K9 dimethylation poses questions regarding the require-
ment for H3K9 and H4K20 trimethylation in the MOE. The obser-
vation that the additional lysine methylation events result in less
of OR-activating and OSN-specific transcription factors on
multiple OR alleles, offers a simple explanation. In other words,
this transition in methyl marks provides better protection from
the activating transcription factor millieux and more efficient
repression, offering a unique and counterintuitive example in
developmental biology whereby genes are silenced in the exact
cell type that they are supposed to be expressed, assuring the
implementation of the ‘‘one receptor per neuron rule.’’ Indeed,
ChIP-qPCR from P2-expressing neurons shows that the primary
function of this silencing mechanism extends beyond the restric-
tion of OR expression within a zone because, in a P2-expressing
neuron, genes from the same or different zones have similar
OR Silencing Precedes OR Choice
Our data suggest a model for OR choice that incorporates our
biochemical findings with a feedback signal. According to this
model, all of the OR alleles become silenced before OR tran-
scription. At a later stage, a limited enzymatic activity removes
H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 from a stochastically chosen allele,
allowing its transcriptional activation. The synthesis of OR
protein elicits a feedback signal that prevents this enzyme/
selector from activating another allele and stabilizes the tran-
scription of the chosen allele. Thus, the feedback signal does
ing. Consequently, an OR-generated feedback is not respon-
sible for creating the singularity in OR choice but, rather, for
preserving it for the life of the neuron.
Alternatively, at the moment of OR choice, OR genes could be
repressed only by H3K9me2, which is deposited on them at
earlier differentiation states. In this scenario, OR expression
could trigger the trimethylation of H3K9 and H4K20, resulting
in permanent OR silencing. However, our data are consistent
with the former model. We detect high levels of H3K9me3 and
H4K20me3 on sustentacular cells that do not express ORs and
do not experience such a feedback. Second, we isolated
progenitor cells and immature OSNs and progenitors with two
independent approaches, and in both cases, OR silencing was
detected before OR expression. In any case, the molecular logic
of OR choice is conceptually the same: in both models,
chromatin-mediated silencing precedes OR choice. Finally, it is
plausible that OR choice constitutes the ‘‘protection’’ of one
OR allele from either form of silencing. However, it is established
that OSNs can switch to different OR alleles (Shykind et al.,
2004), making such a model highly unlikely.
Our data cannot exclude the possibility that trimethylation of
H3K9 and H4K20 constitutes epi-phenomena causing neither
Figure 5. Expression and ChIP-qPCR Analysis of Ngn1+Cells
(A and B) Sections of the MOE from an adult Ngn1-GFP mouse stained with antibodies against ORs MOR28 and M50 (A) or M71 (B) (all in red). GBCs and
immature neurons are the GFP+cells (green).
(C) Expression levels of OR transcripts, as determined by Illumina mRNA-seq, are quantified by normalized RPKM (reads per kilobase of exon model per million
mapped reads). RPKM increases with radius from the center of the figure, clamped at a maximum of 1. Each radial bar represents the level of expression of
asingle OR.ForeachORgene, redindicates theexpression level inNgn1+neurons,and blueindicates the expression level inOMP+neurons.ORsare sortedfirst
by chromosome, indicated by the number or letter exterior to each wedge of the figure, and then by increasing gene start position within each chromosome. The
two classes of ORs (classes I and II) are demarcated by background shading. See Table S1 for detailed results.
(D) Boxplot representation of all OR gene expression in OMP+and Ngn1+cells, showing that there is an ?8-fold difference between the two cell types. Per gene
expression was calculated in log2 (RPKM) units.
(E) ChIP-qPCR analysis for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 with isolated Ngn1-GFP+cells. Experiment was performed in two biological replicates with similar results.
Values shown here are the mean of triplicate qPCRs. Error bars represent the SEM.
(F)ICAM-1+,Ngn1+,and OMP+cellsweresortedfrom theMOEofadultmice,andtheirnucleiwereextracted, digestedwithDNaseI,andanalyzed byagarosegel
electrophoresis and Southern blot with a degenerate OR or a ribosomal probe.
See also Figure S5.
Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc. 565
566 Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc.
the chromatin compaction nor the transcriptional silencing of OR
genes. However, there is significant support from multiple model
organisms for a direct role of these epigenetic modifications in
chromatin structure and gene regulation (Fodor et al., 2010).
In conclusion, our experiments provide a molecular glimpse
into the monoallelic expression of olfactory receptors in the
mouse. In the other well-characterized stochastic regulatory
process inmammals, Xinactivation, the choice ismade between
two transcriptionally active X chromosomes; whereas one will
remain on, the other will be silenced as a consequence of the
choice (Royce-Tolland and Panning, 2008). In OR choice, the
logic is different. Silencing occurs before a choice is made,
and the choice itself could be mediated by derepression. Similar
logic applies to the immunoglobulin light chain rearrangement
and to var gene choice in Plasmodium falciparum (Goldmit
et al., 2005; Scherf et al., 2008). A common theme between
OR, kappa, and var gene choice is the high number of available
alleles (Goldmit and Bergman, 2004). If these genes were main-
tained in a poised and accessible state, then the concomitant
selection of multiple alleles would be unavoidable. Therefore,
the high number of OR alleles together with the need for a strictly
monogenic and monoallelic OR expression gave rise to an
unusual regulatory circuit. It remains to be seen whether the
regulatory principles proposed here apply to other neuronal
systems whereby neurons commit permanently to differentiation
processes regulated by stable transcriptional choices.
a protocol approval number AN084169-01.
ChIP-qPCRs and ChIP-on-Chip Experiments
ChIP-qPCRs assays, sequential ChIPs, and ChIP-on-chip experiments were
performed according to standard protocols and are described in detail in
Extended Experimental Procedures.
Quality control of the ChIP-on chip data was performed both by NimbleGen
(according to their protocols) and by our group. The log2 (ChIP/input) ratio
was normalized in a ‘‘weighted global’’ manner. For peak analysis, we used
the model-based analysis of two-color arrays (MA2C) (Song et al., 2007),
our results by a different algorithm (Wen et al., 2009). See Extended Experi-
mental Procedures for more details. Raw and normalized Chip-on-chip data
can be accessed at GEO: GSE24420.
DNase I Accessibility Assay
Nuclei were isolated from MOE and liver and digested with DNase I for
2–40 min at 37?C; reactions were terminated with 0.5 M EDTA (pH 8.0).
Detailed protocol is found in the Extended Experimental Procedures.
Nuclei were extracted and digested with diluted MNase to yield DNA frag-
ments with an average size larger than 20 Kbs. The fractionation was per-
formed as described before (Gilbert et al., 2004) with more details presented
in the Extended Experimental Procedures.
Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorting of MOE Cell Populations
For FACS experiments, the olfactory epithelium of 6- to 10-week-old OMP-
IRES-GFP, Ngn1-GFP, or P2-IRES-GFP mice was dissected and cells were
dissociated using a papain dissociation kit (Worthington Biochemical,
Freehold, NJ) following the manufacturer’s instructions. See Extended
Experimental Procedures for more details.
Transgene Mapping and X-Galactosidase Staining
Mapping of the OMP-LacZ transgene and staining of neurons with X-galacto-
Procedures for more details.
figures, and two tables and can be found with this article online at doi:10.1016/
We are gratefulto Dr. Frank Margolis for the OMP-LacZ mouse strain, Dr. John
Rubenstein for the Emx2 knockout mouse, Dr. James E. Schwob for the SUS4
antibody, Drs. Andrew Feinberg and Bo Wen for the primer sequences for the
positive controls for the H3K9me2 ChIPs, and Dr. Richard Axel for the P2-
IRES-GFP and OMP-IRES-GFP mice as well as for the helpful discussions
and support. We would also like to thank Drs. Hiten Madhani, Barbara
Panning, Nirao Shah, Dimitris Thanos, Tim Mcclintock, Kevin Monahan, and
Keith Yamamoto for critical reading of the manuscript. B.M.C., E.J.C., and
E.M.-P. are supported by fellowships from the National Science Foundation.
icalSciences,and S.L. isfundedby theMcKnightEndowmentFund forNeuro-
science, Rett Syndrome Research Trust, Hellman Family Foundation, NIDCD
(R03 DC010273), and Director’s New Innovator Award Program (1DP2
Figure 6. The Active OR Allele Is Not Enriched for H3K9me3 or H4K20me3, but It Is Marked with H3K4me3
Heterozygote P2-IRES-GFP and MOR28-IRES-GFP mice were used to isolate GFP+and GFP?cells by FACS. ChIP experiments were performed in these cells
with antibodies against H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 or against H3K4me3.
(A) The location of the primers used in this experiment is depicted here. Primers for the GFP sequence were used to specifically monitor the active allele, whereas
the ORWT primers specifically amplified the inactive allele.
(B and C) GFP is hypomethylated on H3K9 (B) in the GFP+cells, in which it is transcribed, but not in the GFP?cells (C), in which this P2 allele is inactive. The
inactive allele, amplified specifically by the p2WT primers, shows high enrichment for H3K9me3 in both GFP+and GFP?populations. Omp and Tbp are used as
negative controls and Zfp560 and repeats (major satellite) as positive controls.
(D and E)As above, but the GFP+cells from MOR28-IRES-GFP heterozygous mice were subject to a second round of FACS to yield a > 95% purepopulation and
were then used for H3K9me3 ChIPs.
(F) Similar results were obtained for the H4K20me3 ChIPs with P2-GFP-sorted cells.
(G) We repeated the same ChIP-qPCR experiment with an antibody against H3K4me3. There is significant enrichment for H3K4me3 throughout the gene, but not
on the neighboring P3 gene or a distant OR (Olfr177) in the GFP+cells. As expected, there was no H3K4me3 on the P2 gene or any other OR gene in the GFP?
Values are the mean of triplicate qPCR. Error bars represent the SEM. See also Figure S6.
Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc. 567
Figure 7. Tissue-Specific OR Modifications Are Associated with OR-like Transgene Expression
(A) Graphic representation of the Olfr459 locus and the OMP-LacZ insertion site located 55 kb away. Positions marked A, B, and C depict assayed regions in the
qPCR analysis below.
568 Cell 145, 555–570, May 13, 2011 ª2011 Elsevier Inc.
Received: September 28, 2010
Revised: March 10, 2011
Accepted: March 17, 2011
Published online: April 28, 2011
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(C) ChIP-qPCR analysis of the MOE and liver from OMP-LacZ-positive animals. Both H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 show MOE-specific deposition on Olfr459, the
OMP-LacZ transgene, and the regions proximal to these loci. Experiment was performed in two biological replicates with similar results. Values shown here are
the mean of triplicate qPCRs. Error bars represent the SEM.
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