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Mol Cell Biol. 1993 Aug;13(8):4523-30.

Developmental differences in methylation of human Alu repeats.

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Department of Chemistry, University of California, Davis 95616.


Alu repeats are especially rich in CpG dinucleotides, the principal target sites for DNA methylation in eukaryotes. The methylation state of Alus in different human tissues is investigated by simple, direct genomic blot analysis exploiting recent theoretical and practical advances concerning Alu sequence evolution. Whereas Alus are almost completely methylated in somatic tissues such as spleen, they are hypomethylated in the male germ line and tissues which depend on the differential expression of the paternal genome complement for development. In particular, we have identified a subset enriched in young Alus whose CpGs appear to be almost completely unmethylated in sperm DNA. The existence of this subset potentially explains the conservation of CpG dinucleotides in active Alu source genes. These profound, sequence-specific developmental changes in the methylation state of Alu repeats suggest a function for Alu sequences at the DNA level, such as a role in genomic imprinting.

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