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Cell Death Dis. 2018 May 1;9(5):474. doi: 10.1038/s41419-018-0495-z.

DNA methylation, through DNMT1, has an essential role in the development of gastrointestinal smooth muscle cells and disease.

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Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno, NV, 89557, USA.
Department of Morphological and Physiological Sciences, University of Fukui, Fukui, 910-8507, Japan.
Sasse Surgical Associates, Reno, NV, 89502, USA.
Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, 94305, USA.
Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno, NV, 89557, USA.


DNA methylation is a key epigenetic modification that can regulate gene expression. Genomic DNA hypomethylation is commonly found in many gastrointestinal (GI) diseases. Dysregulated gene expression in GI smooth muscle cells (GI-SMCs) can lead to motility disorders. However, the consequences of genomic DNA hypomethylation within GI-SMCs are still elusive. Utilizing a Cre-lox murine model, we have generated SMC-restricted DNA methyltransferase 1 (Dnmt1) knockout (KO) mice and analyzed the effects of Dnmt1 deficiency. Dnmt1-KO pups are born smaller than their wild-type littermates, have shortened GI tracts, and lose peristaltic movement due to loss of the tunica muscularis in their intestine, causing massive intestinal dilation, and death around postnatal day 21. Within smooth muscle tissue, significant CpG hypomethylation occurs across the genome at promoters, introns, and exons. Additionally, there is a marked loss of differentiated SMC markers (Srf, Myh11, miR-133, miR-143/145), an increase in pro-apoptotic markers (Nr4a1, Gadd45g), loss of cellular connectivity, and an accumulation of coated vesicles within SMC. Interestingly, we observed consistent abnormal expression patterns of enzymes involved in DNA methylation between both Dnmt1-KO mice and diseased human GI tissue. These data demonstrate that DNA hypomethylation in embryonic SMC, via congenital Dnmt1 deficiency, contributes to massive dysregulation of gene expression and is lethal to GI-SMC. These results suggest that Dnmt1 has a necessary role in the embryonic, primary development process of SMC with consistent patterns being found in human GI diseased tissue.

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