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Annu Rev Biochem. 2012;81:97-117. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biochem-052610-091920. Epub 2012 Feb 23.

Programming of DNA methylation patterns.

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Department of Developmental Biology and Cancer Research, Hebrew University Medical School, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, Israel.


DNA methylation represents a form of genome annotation that mediates gene repression by serving as a maintainable mark that can be used to reconstruct silent chromatin following each round of replication. During development, germline DNA methylation is erased in the blastocyst, and a bimodal pattern is established anew at the time of implantation when the entire genome gets methylated while CpG islands are protected. This brings about global repression and allows housekeeping genes to be expressed in all cells of the body. Postimplantation development is characterized by stage- and tissue-specific changes in methylation that ultimately mold the epigenetic patterns that define each individual cell type. This is directed by sequence information in DNA and represents a secondary event that provides long-term expression stability. Abnormal methylation changes play a role in diseases, such as cancer or fragile X syndrome, and may also occur as a function of aging or as a result of environmental influences.

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