Vitamin C activates young LINE-1 elements in mouse embryonic stem cells via H3K9me3 demethylation

Kevin C.L. Cheng, Jennifer M. Frost, Francisco J. Sánchez-Luque, Marta García-Canãdas, Darren Taylor, Wan R. Yang, Branavy Irayanar, Swetha Sampath, Hemalvi Patani, Karl Agger, Kristian Helin, Gabriella Ficz, Kathleen H. Burns, Adam Ewing, José L. García-Pérez, Miguel R. Branco*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Vitamin C (vitC) enhances the activity of 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases, including TET enzymes, which catalyse DNA demethylation, and Jumonji-domain histone demethylases. The epigenetic remodelling promoted by vitC improves the efficiency of induced pluripotent stem cell derivation, and is required to attain a ground-state of pluripotency in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) that closely mimics the inner cell mass of the early blastocyst. However, genome-wide DNA and histone demethylation can lead to upregulation of transposable elements (TEs), and it is not known how vitC addition in culture media affects TE expression in pluripotent stem cells. Results: Here we show that vitC increases the expression of several TE families, including evolutionarily young LINE-1 (L1) elements, in mouse ESCs. We find that TET activity is dispensable for L1 upregulation, and that instead it occurs largely as a result of H3K9me3 loss mediated by KDM4A/C histone demethylases. Despite increased L1 levels, we did not detect increased somatic insertion rates in vitC-treated cells. Notably, treatment of human ESCs with vitC also increases L1 protein levels, albeit through a distinct, post-transcriptional mechanism. Conclusion: VitC directly modulates the expression of mouse L1s and other TEs through epigenetic mechanisms, with potential for downstream effects related to the multiple emerging roles of L1s in cellular function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number39
JournalEpigenetics and Chromatin
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases
  • DNA methylation
  • Embryonic stem cells
  • Histone methylation
  • Human
  • LINE-1
  • Mouse
  • Retrotransposition
  • Vitamin C


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