DNA Methylation - in Mammals

In Mammals

DNA methylation is essential for normal development and is associated with a number of key processes including genomic imprinting, X-chromosome inactivation, suppression of repetitive elements, and carcinogenesis.

Between 60% and 90% of all CpGs are methylated in mammals. Methylated C residues spontaneously deaminate to form T residues over evolutionary time; hence CpG dinucleotides steadily mutate to TpG dinucleotides, which is evidenced by the under-representation of CpG dinucleotides in the human genome (they occur at only 21% of the expected frequency). (On the other hand, spontaneous deamination of unmethylated C residues gives rise to U residues, a mutation that is quickly recognized and repaired by the cell.)

Unmethylated CpGs are often grouped in clusters called CpG islands, which are present in the 5' regulatory regions of many genes. In many disease processes, such as cancer, gene promoter CpG islands acquire abnormal hypermethylation, which results in transcriptional silencing that can be inherited by daughter cells following cell division. Alterations of DNA methylation have been recognized as an important component of cancer development. Hypomethylation, in general, arises earlier and is linked to chromosomal instability and loss of imprinting, whereas hypermethylation is associated with promoters and can arise secondary to gene (oncogene suppressor) silencing, but might be a target for epigenetic therapy.

DNA methylation may affect the transcription of genes in two ways. First, the methylation of DNA itself may physically impede the binding of transcriptional proteins to the gene, and second, and likely more important, methylated DNA may be bound by proteins known as methyl-CpG-binding domain proteins (MBDs). MBD proteins then recruit additional proteins to the locus, such as histone deacetylases and other chromatin remodeling proteins that can modify histones, thereby forming compact, inactive chromatin, termed heterochromatin. This link between DNA methylation and chromatin structure is very important. In particular, loss of methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) has been implicated in Rett syndrome; and methyl-CpG-binding domain protein 2 (MBD2) mediates the transcriptional silencing of hypermethylated genes in cancer.

Research has suggested that long-term memory storage in humans may be regulated by DNA methylation.

Read more about this topic:  DNA Methylation

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