The initiation of mammalian embryonic transcription: to begin at the beginning

Anthony C F Perry, Maki Asami, Brian Y H Lam, Giles S H Yeo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)


Gamete (sperm and oocyte) genomes are transcriptionally silent until embryonic genome activation (EGA) following fertilization. EGA in humans had been thought to occur around the eight-cell stage, but recent findings suggest that it is triggered in one-cell embryos, by fertilization. Phosphorylation and other post-translational modifications during fertilization may instate transcriptionally favorable chromatin and activate oocyte-derived transcription factors (TFs) to initiate EGA. Expressed genes lay on cancer-associated pathways and their identities predict upregulation by MYC and other cancer-associated TFs. One interpretation of this is that the onset of EGA, and the somatic cell trajectory to cancer, are mechanistically related: cancer initiates epigenetically. We describe how fertilization might be linked to the initiation of EGA and involve distinctive processes recapitulated in cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-373
JournalTrends in Cell Biology
Issue number5
Early online date29 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023


  • embryonic genome activation (EGA)
  • fertilization
  • initiation of cancer
  • totipotency
  • transcription factor (TF)
  • zygote

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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