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Biochemistry. 1998 Jan 27;37(4):1101-8.

Influence of pre-existing methylation on the de novo activity of eukaryotic DNA methyltransferase.

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Department of Biochemical Sciences A. Rossi Fanelli, University of Rome La Sapienza, Research Institute S. Pietro Hospital-Fatebenefratelli, Italy.


Aberrant de novo methylation of CpG island DNA sequences has been observed in cultured cell lines or upon malignant transformation, but the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly understood. Using eukaryotic DNA (cytosine-5)-methyltransferase (of both human and murine origin), we have studied the in vitro methylation pattern of three CpG islands. Such sequences are intrinsically poor substrates of the enzyme, yet are efficiently methylated when a small amount of 5-methylcytosine is randomly introduced by the M.SssI prokaryotic DNA (cytosine-5)-methyltransferase prior to in vitro methylation by the eukaryotic enzyme. A stimulation was also found with several other double-stranded DNA substrates, either natural or of synthetic origin, such as poly(dG-dC).poly(dG-dC). An A + T-rich plasmid, pHb beta 1S, showed an initial stimulation, followed by a severe inhibition of the activity of DNA (cytosine-5)-methyltransferase. Methylation of poly(dI-dC).poly(dI-dC) was instead inhibited by pre-existing 5-methylcytosines. The extent of stimulation observed with poly(dG-dC).poly(dG-dC) depends on both the number and the distribution of the 5-methylcytosine residues, which probably must not be too closely spaced for the stimulatory effect to be exerted. The activity of the M.SssI prokaryotic DNA methyltransferase was not stimulated, but was inhibited by pre-methylation on either poly(dG-dC).poly(dG-dC) or poly(dI-dC).poly(dI-dC). The prokaryotic and eukaryotic DNA methyltransferases also differed in sensitivity to poly(dG-m5dC).poly(dG-m5dC), which is highly inhibitory for eukaryotic enzymes and almost ineffective on prokaryotic enzymes.

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