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J Mol Biol. 1991 Sep 20;221(2):431-40.

Mutations that confer de novo activity upon a maintenance methyltransferase.

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Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Edinburgh, U.K.


DNA methyltransferases are not only sequence specific in their action, but they also differentiate between the alternative methylation states of a target site. Some methyltransferases are equally active on either unmethylated or hemimethylated DNA and consequently function as de novo methyltransferases. Others are specific for hemimethylated target sequences, consistent with the postulated role of a maintenance methyltransferase in perpetuating a pattern of DNA modification. The molecular basis for the difference between de novo and maintenance methyltransferase activity is unknown, yet fundamental to cellular activities that are affected by different methylation states of the genome. The methyltransferase activity of the type I restriction and modification system, EcoK, is the only known prokaryotic methyltransferase shown to be specific for hemimethylated target sequences. We have isolated mutants of Escherichia coli K-12 which are able to modify unmethylated target sequences efficiently in a manner indicative of de novo methyltransferase activity. Consistent with this change in specificity, some mutations shift the balance between DNA restriction and modification as if both activities now compete at unmethylated targets. Two genes encode the methyltransferase and all the mutations are loosely clustered within one of them.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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