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J Neurosci Res. 2005 Mar 15;79(6):734-46.

Dynamic expression of de novo DNA methyltransferases Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b in the central nervous system.

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Department of Human Genetics, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


To explore the role of DNA methylation in the brain, we examined the expression pattern of de novo DNA methyltransferases Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b in the mouse central nervous system (CNS). By comparing the levels of Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b mRNAs and proteins in the CNS, we showed that Dnmt3b is detected within a narrow window during early neurogenesis, whereas Dnmt3a is present in both embryonic and postnatal CNS tissues. To determine the precise pattern of Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b gene expression, we carried out X-gal histochemistry in transgenic mice in which the lacZ marker gene is knocked into the endogenous Dnmt3a or Dnmt3b gene locus (Okano et al. [1999] Cell 99:247-257). In Dnmt3b-lacZ transgenic mice, X-gal-positive cells are dispersed across the ventricular zone of the CNS between embryonic days (E) 10.5 and 13.5 but become virtually undetectable in the CNS after E15.5. In Dnmt3a-lacZ mice, X-gal signal is initially observed primarily in neural precursor cells within the ventricular and subventricular zones between E10.5 and E17.5. However, from the newborn stage to adulthood, Dnmt3a X-gal signal was detected predominantly in postmitotic CNS neurons across all the regions examined, including olfactory bulb, cortex, hippocampus, striatum, and cerebellum. Furthermore, Dnmt3a signals in CNS neurons increase during the first 3 weeks of postnatal development and then decline to a relatively low level in adulthood, suggesting that Dnmt3a may be of critical importance for CNS maturation. Immunocytochemistry experiments confirmed that Dnmt3a protein is strongly expressed in neural precursor cells, postmitotic CNS neurons, and oligodendrocytes. In contrast, glial fibrillary acidic protein-positive astrocytes exhibit relatively weak or no Dnmt3a immunoreactivity in vitro and in vivo. Our data suggest that whereas Dnmt3b may be important for the early phase of neurogenesis, Dnmt3a likely plays a dual role in regulating neurogenesis prenatally and CNS maturation and function postnatally.

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