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J Biol Chem. 2001 Aug 24;276(34):32282-7. Epub 2001 Jun 26.

Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b are transcriptional repressors that exhibit unique localization properties to heterochromatin.

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  • 1The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, Tumor Biology Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21231, USA.


We demonstrate that the recently identified DNA methyltransferases, Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b, like DNMT1, repress transcription in a methylation-independent manner. Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b repress transcription primarily through a plant homeodomain-like motif that is shared with the ATRX protein but is not present in DNMT1. Unlike DNMT1, which localizes to replication foci during S-phase in murine embryonic fibroblasts, Dnmt3a co-localizes with heterochromatin protein 1 alpha (HP1 alpha) and methyl-CpG binding proteins throughout the cell cycle to late-replicating pericentromeric heterochromatin. In contrast to Dnmt3a, Dnmt3b remained diffuse in the nucleus of embryonic fibroblasts at all cell cycle stages. However, Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b co-localize to these pericentromeric heterochromatin regions in murine embryonic stem cells. This finding is important to the fact that mutations in DNMT3B are found in the developmental syndrome, ICF (immunodeficiency, centromeric heterochromatin instability, and facial anomalies), which involves extensive loss of methylation from pericentromeric regions. The localization of Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b was unaffected in Dnmt1 null embryonic stem cells, which lose the majority of methylation at pericentromeric major satellite repeats, suggesting that these enzymes are not dependent upon preexisting methylation for their targeting. DNMT1 is then positioned to reestablish transcriptionally repressive chromatin as cells replicate, while Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b may help to establish such chromatin in late S-phase and maintain this repressive heterochromatin throughout the cell cycle in a developmentally and/or cell type manner.

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