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Enzymatic DNA Methylation Is an Epigenetic Control for Genetic Functions of the Cell

B. F. Vanyushin

Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119992 Moscow, Russia; fax: (7-095) 939-3181; E-mail: vanyush@belozersky.msu.ru

Received December 24, 2004
In eukaryotic cells nuclear DNA is subjected to enzymatic methylation resulting in formation of 5-methylcytosine residues mainly in CG and CNG sequences. In plants and animals, this DNA methylation is species-, tissue-, and organelle-specific. It changes (diminishes) with age and is regulated by hormones. On the other hand, genome methylation can control hormonal signal. There are replicative and postreplicative DNA methylations. They are served by multiple DNA-methyltransferases with different site specificity. Replication is accompanied by appearance of hemimethylated sites in DNA; pronounced asymmetry of DNA chain methylation disappears at the end of the cell cycle; a model of regulation of replication by DNA methylation is suggested. DNA methylation controls all genetic processes in the cell (replication, transcription, DNA repair, recombination, gene transposition) and it is a mechanism of cell differentiation, gene discrimination, and silencing. Prohibition of DNA methylation stops development (embryogenesis), switches on apoptosis, and is usually lethal. Distortions in DNA methylations result in cancerous cell transformation, and the DNA methylation pattern is one of the safe cancer diagnostics at early stages of carcinogenesis. The malignant cell has a different DNA methylation pattern and a set of DNA-methyltransferase activities expressed as compared with normal cells. Inhibition of DNA methylation in plants is accompanied by induction of genes of seed storage proteins and flowering. In eukaryotes one and the same gene can be methylated both on cytosine and adenine residues; thus, there are, at least, two different and probably interdependent systems of DNA methylation in the cell. First higher eukaryotic adenine DNA-methyltransferase was isolated from plants; this enzyme methylates DNA with formation of N6-methyladenine residues in the sequence TGATCA → TGm6ATCA. Plants have AdoMet-dependent endonucleases sensitive to DNA methylation status; therefore, like microorganisms, plants seem to have a restriction-modification (R-S) system. Revelation of an essential role of DNA methylation in the regulation of genetic processes has laid a foundation for and materialized epigenetics and epigenomics.
KEY WORDS: apoptosis, DNA methylation, mitochondria, epigenetics, cancer, aging, regulation of replication, transcription, adenine-DNA-methyltransferase, methyl-DNA-binding proteins, plants