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Chelsea Marcho, Wei Cui and Jesse Mager

Successful mammalian development requires descendants of single-cell zygotes to differentiate into diverse cell types even though they contain the same genetic material. Preimplantation dynamics are first driven by the necessity of reprogramming haploid parental epigenomes to reach a totipotent state. This process requires extensive erasure of epigenetic marks shortly after fertilization. During the few short days after formation of the zygote, epigenetic programs are established and are essential for the first lineage decisions and differentiation. Here we review the current understanding of DNA methylation and histone modification dynamics responsible for these early changes during mammalian preimplantation development. In particular, we highlight insights that have been gained through next-generation sequencing technologies comparing human embryos to other models as well as the recent discoveries of active DNA demethylation mechanisms at play during preimplantation.

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Wei Cui, Chelsea Marcho, Yongsheng Wang, Rinat Degani, Morgane Golan, Kimberly D Tremblay, Jaime A Rivera-Pérez and Jesse Mager

Mediator is an evolutionarily conserved multi-subunit complex, bridging transcriptional activators and repressors to the general RNA polymerase II (Pol II) initiation machinery. Though the Mediator complex is crucial for the transcription of almost all Pol II promoters in eukaryotic organisms, the phenotypes of individual Mediator subunit mutants are each distinct. Here, we report for the first time, the essential role of subunit MED20 in early mammalian embryo development. Although Med20 mutant mouse embryos exhibit normal morphology at E3.5 blastocyst stage, they cannot be recovered at early post-gastrulation stages. Outgrowth assays show that mutant blastocysts cannot hatch from the zona pellucida, indicating impaired blastocyst function. Assessments of cell death and cell lineage specification reveal that apoptosis, inner cell mass, trophectoderm and primitive endoderm markers are normal in mutant blastocysts. However, the epiblast marker NANOG is ectopically expressed in the trophectoderm of Med20 mutants, indicative of defects in trophoblast specification. These results suggest that MED20 specifically, and the Mediator complex in general, are essential for the earliest steps of mammalian development and cell lineage specification.