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Epigenetics. 2010 May 16;5(4):325-42. Epub 2010 May 5.

Identification and characterization of putative methylation targets in the MAOA locus using bioinformatic approaches.

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  • 1Brookhaven National Laboratory, Medical Department, Upton, NY, USA.


Monoamine oxidase A (MAO A) is an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of neurotransmitter amines. A functional polymorphism in the human MAOA gene (high- and low-MAOA) has been associated with distinct behavioral phenotypes. To investigate directly the biological mechanism whereby this polymorphism influences brain function, we recently measured the activity of the MAO A enzyme in healthy volunteers. When found no relationship between the individual's brain MAO A level and the MAOA genotype, we postulated that there are additional regulatory mechanisms that control the MAOA expression. Given that DNA methylation is linked to the regulation of gene expression, we hypothesized that epigenetic mechanisms factor into the MAOA expression. Our underplaying assumption was that the differences in an individual's genotype play a key role in the epigenetic potential of the MAOA locus and, consequently, determine the individual's level of MAO A activity in the brain. As a first step towards experimental validation of the hypothesis, we performed a comprehensive bioinformatic analysis aiming to interrogate genomic features and attributes of the MAOA locus that might modulate its epigenetic sensitivity. Major findings of our analysis are the following: (1) the extended MAOA regulatory region contains two CpG islands (CGIs), one of which overlaps with the canonical MAOA promoter and the other is located further upstream; both CGIs exhibit sensitivity to differential methylation. (2) The uVNTR's effect on the MAOA's transcriptional activity might have epigenetic nature: this polymorphic region resides within the MAOA's CGI and itself contains CpGs, thus, the number of repeating increments effectively changes the number of methylatable cytosines in the MAOA promoter. An array of in silico analyses (the nucleosome positioning, the physical properties of the local DNA, the clustering of transcription-factor binding sites) together with experimental data on histone modifications and Pol 2 sites and data from the RefSeq mRNA library suggest that the MAOA gene might have an alternative promoter. Based on our findings, we propose a regulatory mechanism for the human MAOA according to which the MAOA expression in vivo is executed by the generation of tissue-specific transcripts initiated from the alternative promoters (both CGI-associated) where transcriptional activation of a particular promoter is under epigenetic control.

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