The global impact of DNA methylation on alternative splicing is largely unknown. Using a genome-wide approach in wild-type and methylation-deficient embryonic stem cells, we found that DNA methylation can either enhance or silence exon recognition and affects the splicing of more than 20% of alternative exons. These exons are characterized by distinct genetic and epigenetic signatures. Alternative splicing regulation of a subset of these exons can be explained by heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1), which silences or enhances exon recognition in a position-dependent manner. We constructed an experimental system using site-specific targeting of a methylated/unmethylated gene and demonstrate a direct causal relationship between DNA methylation and alternative splicing. HP1 regulates this gene's alternative splicing in a methylation-dependent manner by recruiting splicing factors to its methylated form. Our results demonstrate DNA methylation's significant global influence on mRNA splicing and identify a specific mechanism of splicing regulation mediated by HP1.
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© 2015 The Authors.