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On the Biological Significance of DNA Methylation

W. Doerfler

Institut für Genetik, Universität zu Köln, Zülpicherstr. 47, 50674 Köln, Germany; E-mail: walter.doerfler@uni-koeln.de
Institut für Klinische und Molekulare Virologie, Universität Erlangen, Schloßgarten 4, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany; E-mail: walter.doerfler@viro.med.uni-erlangen.de

Received December 20, 2004
This chapter presents a personal account of the work on DNA methylation in viral and mammalian systems performed in the author's laboratory in the course of the past thirty years. The text does not attempt to give a complete and meticulous account of the many relevant and excellent reports published by many other laboratories, so it is not a review of the field in a conventional sense. The choice of viral model systems in molecular biology is well founded. Over many decades, viruses have proven their invaluable and pioneering role as tools in molecular genetics. When our interest turned to the demonstration of genome-wide patterns of DNA methylation, we focused mainly on the human genome. The following topics in DNA methylation will be treated in detail: (i) the de novo methylation of integrated foreign genomes; (ii) the long-term gene silencing effect of sequence-specific promoter methylation and its reversal; (iii) the properties and specificity of patterns of DNA methylation in the human genome and their possible relations to pathogenesis; (iv) the long-range global effects on cellular DNA methylation and transcriptional profiles as a consequence of foreign DNA insertion into an established genome; (v) the patterns of DNA methylation can be considered part of a cellular defense mechanism against foreign or repetitive DNA; what role has food-ingested DNA played in the elaboration of this mechanism?
KEY WORDS: DNA methylation, adenoviruses, cancer