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Discovery of bisulfite-mediated cytosine conversion to uracil, the key reaction for DNA methylation analysis--a personal account.

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Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Okayama University, Okayama, Japan.


Methylation at position 5 of cytosine in DNA is being intensively studied in many areas of biological sciences, as the methylation is intimately associated with the control of gene functions. The principal analytical method for determining the sites of 5-methylcytosine in genome at the sequence level involves bisulfite modification of DNA. The utility of this chemical treatment is based on the property of bisulfite to selectively deaminate cytosine residues. The bisulfite-mediated cytosine deamination was discovered in 1970 by us in the University of Tokyo. At the same time, Shapiro and his coworkers in New York University found the same reaction independently. We also reported that 5-methylcytosine was deaminated by bisulfite only very slowly. These findings were later utilized by a group of Australian scientists to devise a means to analyze 5-methylcytosine in DNA; thus, a method called 'bisulfite genomic sequencing' was invented by these researchers in 1992. This review describes the author's reflection of the discovery of bisulfite reactions with pyrimidine bases. The author's recent work that has resulted in an improvement of the procedure of analysis by use of a newly devised high concentration bisulfite solution is also described.

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