N(6)-methyladenine in eukaryotic DNA: tissue distribution, early embryo development and neuronal toxicity.
- Immune Endocrine and Epigenetics
- Quantitative Biology Unit
- Cardiovascular Research Unit
DNA methylation is one of the most important epigenetic modifications and is closely related with several biological processes such as regulation of gene transcription and the development of non-malignant diseases. The prevailing dogma states that DNA methylation in eukaryotes occurs essentially through 5-methylcytosine (5mC) but recently adenine methylation was also found to be present in eukaryotes. In mouse embryonic stem cells, 6-methyladenine (6mA) was associated with the repression and silencing of genes, particularly in the X-chromosome, known to play an important role in cell fate determination. Here, we have demonstrated that 6mA is a ubiquitous eukaryotic epigenetic modification that is put in place during epigenetically sensitive periods such as embryogenesis and fetal development. In somatic cells there are clear tissue specificity in 6mA levels, with the highest 6mA levels being observed in the brain. In zebrafish, during the first 120 h of embryo development, from a single pluripotent cell to an almost fully formed individual, 6mA levels steadily increase. An identical pattern was observed over embryonic days 7-21 in the mouse. Furthermore, exposure to a neurotoxic environmental pollutant during the same early life period may led to a decrease in the levels of this modification in female rats. The identification of the periods during which 6mA epigenetic marks are put in place increases our understanding of this mammalian epigenetic modification, and raises the possibility that it may be associated with developmental processes.