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J Biol Chem. 2003 Jul 25;278(30):27658-62. Epub 2003 Apr 30.

Enrichment for histone H3 lysine 9 methylation at Alu repeats in human cells.

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  • 1Department of Leukemia, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


The aim of this study was to identify in human cells common targets of histone H3 lysine 9 (H3-Lys9) methylation, a modification that is generally associated with gene silencing. After chromatin immunoprecipitation using an H3-Lys9 methylated antibody, we cloned the recovered DNA and sequenced 47 independent clones. Of these, 38 clones (81%) contained repetitive elements, either short interspersed transposable element (SINE or Alu elements), long terminal repeat (LTR), long interspersed transposable element (LINE), or satellite region (ALR/Alpha) DNA, and three additional clones were near Alu elements. Further characterization of these repetitive elements revealed that 32 clones (68%) were Alu repeats, corresponding to both old Alu (23 clones) and young Alu (9 clones) subfamilies. Association of H3-Lys9 methylation was confirmed by chromatin immunoprecipitation-PCR using conserved Alu primers. In addition, we randomly selected 5 Alu repeats from the recovered clones and confirmed association with H3-Lys9 by PCR using primer sets flanking the Alu elements. Treatment with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine rapidly decreased the level of H3-Lys9 methylation in the Alu elements, suggesting that H3-Lys9 methylation may be related to the suppression of Alu elements through DNA methylation. Thus H3-Lys9 methylation is enriched at human repetitive elements, particularly Alu elements, and may play a role in the suppression of recombination by these elements.

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