Rapid turnover of DNA methylation in human cells

Yoshiaki Yamagata, Pàl Szabó, David Szüts, Caroline Bacquet, Tamàs Arányi, Andras Páldi

Research output: Article

31 Citations (Scopus)


Recent studies demonstrated that cytosine methylation in the genome can be reversed without DNA replication by enzymatic mechanisms based on base excision-repair pathways. Both enzymatic methylation and de methylation mechanisms are active in the cell nucleus at the same time. One can hypothesize that the actual level of CpG methylation could be the result of a balance between the two antagonistic processes with a rapid turnover. In the present study, we used mass spectrometry to measure the total methyl-cytosine content of the genome in cultured human cells after short incubation with the known methyl transferase inhibitor 5-deoxy-azacytidine. A significant decrease of the DNA methylation was observed. Indeed, the inhibition of the methylation can only result in a rapid reduction of the overall methyl-cytosine level if the process of de methylation is simultaneous. These observations suggest that the enzymatic mechanisms responsible of the opposing reactions of DNA methylation and de methylation act simultaneously and may result in a continuous and rapid turnover of methylated cytosines. This conclusion is supported by the observation that 5-deoxy-azacytidine was incorporated in the genomic DNA of non-dividing cells and could be detected as soon as after two hours of incubation, hence providing a mechanistic explanation to the inhibition of methyl transferases. The observations are compatible with the idea that the enzymatic mechanisms that bring together of the opposing reactions of DNA methylation and de methylation act simultaneously and may result in a continuous and unsuspected rapid turnover of DNA methylation. This conclusion is at odds with the generally accepted view of high stability of cytosine methylation where the role of enzymatic de methylation is considered as limited to some special situations such as transcription. It places DNA methylation in the same category as other epigenetic modifications with covalent modifications dynamically added to and removed from the chromatin with high turnover rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-145
Number of pages5
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - febr. 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research

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