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Open Access Research article

Epigenetic predisposition to expression of TIMP1 from the human inactive X chromosome

Catherine L Anderson and Carolyn J Brown*

Author Affiliations

Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia, 2350 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC, CANADA V6T 1Z3

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BMC Genetics 2005, 6:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-6-48

Published: 29 September 2005



X inactivation in mammals results in the transcriptional silencing of an X chromosome in females, and this inactive X acquires many of the epigenetic features of silent chromatin. However, not all genes on the inactive X are silenced, and we have examined the TIMP1 gene, which has variable inactivation amongst females. This has allowed us to examine the features permitting expression from the otherwise silent X by comparing inactive X chromosomes with and without TIMP1 expression.


Expression was generally correlated with euchromatic chromatin features, including DNA hypomethylation, nuclease sensitivity, acetylation of histone H3 and H4 and hypomethylation of H3 at lysines 9 and 27. Demethylation of the TIMP1 gene by 5-azacytidine was able to induce expression from the inactive X chromosome in somatic cell hybrids, and this expression was also accompanied by features of active chromatin. Acetylated histone H3 continued to be observed even when expression was lost in cells that naturally expressed TIMP1; while acetylation was lost upon TIMP1 silencing in cells where expression from the inactive X had been induced by demethylation. Thus ongoing acetylation of inactive X chromosomes does not seem to be simply a 'memory' of expression.


We propose that acetylation of H3 is an epigenetic mark that predisposes to TIMP1 expression from the inactive X chromosome in some females.