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J Am Chem Soc. 2013 Jul 17;135(28):10396-403. doi: 10.1021/ja4028346. Epub 2013 Jul 1.

Ascorbic acid enhances Tet-mediated 5-methylcytosine oxidation and promotes DNA demethylation in mammals.

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The State Key Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China.


DNA hydroxymethylation and its mediated DNA demethylation are critical for multiple cellular processes, for example, nuclear reprogramming, embryonic development, and many diseases. Here, we demonstrate that a vital nutrient ascorbic acid (AA), or vitamin C (Vc), can directly enhance the catalytic activity of Tet dioxygenases for the oxidation of 5-methylcytosine (5mC). As evidenced by changes in intrinsic fluorescence and catalytic activity of Tet2 protein caused by AA and its oxidation-resistant derivatives, we further show that AA can uniquely interact with the C-terminal catalytic domain of Tet enzymes, which probably promotes their folding and/or recycling of the cofactor Fe(2+). Other strong reducing chemicals do not have a similar effect. These results suggest that AA also acts as a cofactor of Tet enzymes. In mouse embryonic stem cells, AA significantly increases the levels of all 5mC oxidation products, particularly 5-formylcytosine and 5-carboxylcytosine (by more than an order of magnitude), leading to a global loss of 5mC (∼40%). In cells deleted of the Tet1 and Tet2 genes, AA alters neither 5mC oxidation nor the overall level of 5mC. The AA effects are however restored when Tet2 is re-expressed in the Tet-deficient cells. The enhancing effects of AA on 5mC oxidation and DNA demethylation are also observed in a mouse model deficient in AA synthesis. Our data establish a direct link among AA, Tet, and DNA methylation, thus revealing a role of AA in the regulation of DNA modifications.

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