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Intronic elements associated with insomnia and restless legs syndrome exhibit cell type-specific epigenetic features contributing to MEIS1 regulation.

Hum Mol Genet. 2021 Dec 9:ddab355. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddab355. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34888668.

Authors/Editors: Lam DD, Nikolic AA, Zhao C, Mirza-Schreiber N, Krężel W, Oexle K, Winkelmann J.
Publication Date: 2021



A highly evolutionarily conserved myeloid ecotropic viral integration site 1 (MEIS1) intronic region is strongly associated with restless legs syndrome (RLS) and insomnia. To understand its regulatory function, we dissected the region by analyzing chromatin accessibility, enhancer-promoter contacts, DNA methylation and expression quantitative trait locus (eQTLs) in different human neural cell types and tissues. We observed specific activity with respect to cell type and developmental maturation, indicating a prominent role for distinct highly conserved intronic elements in forebrain inhibitory neuron differentiation. Two elements were hypomethylated in neural cells with higher MEIS1 expression, suggesting a role of enhancer demethylation in gene regulation. MEIS1 eQTLs showed a striking modular chromosomal distribution, with forebrain eQTLs clustering in intron 8/9. Clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats interference targeting of individual elements in this region attenuated MEIS1 expression, revealing a complex regulatory interplay of distinct elements. In summary, we found that MEIS1 regulation is organized in a modular pattern. Disease-associated intronic regulatory elements control MEIS1 expression with cell type and maturation stage specificity, particularly in the inhibitory neuron lineage. The precise spatiotemporal activity of these elements likely contributes to the pathogenesis of insomnia and RLS.


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