One of the most critical events of preimplantation development is the successful activation of gene transcription. Both the timing and the array of genes activated must be controlled. The ability to regulate gene transcription appears to be reduced just prior to the time of the major genome activation event, and changes in chromatin structure appear essential for establishing this ability. Major molecules that modulate chromatin structure are the linker and core histones, enzymes that modify histones, and a wide variety of other factors that associate with DNA and mediate either repressive or activating changes. Among the latter are chromatin accessibility complexes, SWI/SNF complexes, and the YY1 protein and its associated factors. Detailed information about the expression and regulation of these factors in preimplantation stage embryos has not been published for any species. In order to ascertain which of these factors may participate in chromatin remodeling, genome activation, and DNA replication during early primate embryogenesis, we determined the temporal expression patterns of mRNA encoding these factors. Our data identify the predominant members of these different functional classes of factors expressed in oocytes and embryos, and reveal patterns of expression distinct from those patterns seen in somatic cells. Among each of four classes of mRNAs examined, some mRNAs were expressed predominantly in the oocyte, with these largely giving way to others expressed stage specifically in the embryo. This transition may be part of a global mechanism underlying the transition from maternal to embryonic control of development, wherein the oocyte program is silenced and an embryonic pattern of gene expression becomes established. Possible roles for these mRNAs in chromatin remodeling, genome activation, DNA replication, cell lineage determination, and nuclear reprogramming are discussed.
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