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Mammalian germline reprogramming involves the erasure and re-establishment of epigenetic information critical for germ cell function and inheritance in offspring. The bi-faceted nature of such reprogramming ensures germline repression of somatic programs and the establishment of a carefully constructed epigenome essential for fertilisation and embryonic development in the next generation. While the majority of the germline epigenome is erased in preparation for embryonic development, certain genomic sequences remain resistant to this and may represent routes for transmission of epigenetic changes through the germline. Epigenetic reprogramming is regulated by highly conserved epigenetic modifiers, which function to establish, maintain and remove DNA methylation and chromatin modifications. In this review, we discuss recent findings from a considerable body of work illustrating the critical requirement of epigenetic modifiers that influence the epigenetic signature present in mature gametes, and have the potential to affect developmental outcomes in the offspring. We also briefly discuss the similarities of these mechanisms in the human germline and consider the potential for inheritance of epigenetically induced germline genetic errors that could impact on offspring phenotypes.
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