Hereditary epigenetic variation, initially recognized and studied extensively in plants, had not been reported in mammals until recently. We have now identified the Kit locus as the first example of a paramutable gene of the mouse. Kit+/+ homozygotes born from Kittm1Alf/+ heterozygotes maintain and transmit to their progeny the white-spotted phenotype characteristic of the mutant heterozygote. Our observation of unusual amounts of RNA in the sperm of the paramutated (Kit*) males had led us to consider the possibility of RNA-mediated inheritance. A role for RNA was supported further by the efficient establishment of the epigenetic modification following microinjection in one-cell embryos of either sperm RNA of the paramutated males or of the Kit-specific microRNAs miR-221 and -222. In this article, we describe the phenotypes associated with the wild-type genome in the Kit* paramutated animals. Paramutation may be considered to be one possibility of epigenetic modification in the case of familial disease predispositions that are not fully accounted for by Mendelian analysis.

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