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J Biol Chem. 2002 Apr 5;277(14):11735-45. Epub 2002 Jan 30.

Preferential methylation of unmethylated DNA by Mammalian de novo DNA methyltransferase Dnmt3a.

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Epigenetic Gene Regulation and Cancer Section, Laboratory of Receptor Biology and Gene Expression, NCI, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification of DNA. There are currently three catalytically active mammalian DNA methyltransferases, DNMT1, -3a, and -3b. DNMT1 has been shown to have a preference for hemimethylated DNA and has therefore been termed the maintenance methyltransferase. Although previous studies on DNMT3a and -3b revealed that they act as functional enzymes during development, there is little biochemical evidence about how new methylation patterns are established and maintained. To study this mechanism we have cloned and expressed Dnmt3a using a baculovirus expression system. The substrate specificity of Dnmt3a and molecular mechanism of its methylation reaction were then analyzed using a novel and highly reproducible assay. We report here that Dnmt3a is a true de novo methyltransferase that prefers unmethylated DNA substrates more than 3-fold to hemimethylated DNA. Furthermore, Dnmt3a binds DNA nonspecifically, regardless of the presence of CpG dinucleotides in the DNA substrate. Kinetic analysis supports an Ordered Bi Bi mechanism for Dnmt3a, where DNA binds first, followed by S-adenosyl-l-methionine.

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