In 2009, the DNA alphabet expanded. Scientists discovered that an extra letter or "sixth nucleotide" was surprisingly abundant in DNA from stem cells and brain cells.
Now, researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have mapped the patterns formed by that letter in the brains of mice, observing how its pattern of distribution in the genome changes during development and aging.
Those patterns, stable or dynamic depending on the gene, suggest that 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) has its own distinct functions, which still need to be fully brought to light.
"Our data tells us that 5-hmC is not just an intermediate state," says senior author Peng Jin, PhD, associate professor of human genetics at Emory University School of Medicine. "It looks like it has specific functions in stem cells and brain. 5-hmC may poise a gene to be turned on after being repressed."
The results were published online Sunday by the journal Nature Neuroscience. The paper is the first report on how the patterns of 5-hmC's distribution change in mouse brain during development, and also contains data on 5-hmC in DNA samples from human brain.
Postdoctoral fellow Keith Szulwach and instructor Xuekun Li are co-first authors, and collaborators from the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Madison contributed to the paper.
5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) is an epigenetic modification of cytosine, one of the four bases or "letters" making up DNA. Epigenetic modifications are changes in the way genes are turned on or off, but are not part of the underlying DNA sequence. 5-hmC resembles 5-methylcytosine (5-mC), another modified DNA base that scientists have been studying for decades. Until recently, chemical techniques did not allow scientists to tell the difference between them.
In contrast to 5-mC, 5-hmC appears to be enriched on active genes, especially in brain cells. 5-mC is generally found on genes that are turned off or on repetitive "junk" regions of the genome. When stem cells change into the cells that make up blood, muscle or brain, 5-mC helps shut off genes that aren't supposed to be turned on. Changes in 5-mC's distribution also underpin a healthy cell's transformation into a cancer cell.
It looks like 5-hmC can only appear on DNA where 5-mC already was present. This could be a clue that 5-hmC could be a transitory sign that the cell is going to remove a 5-mC mark. Jin says the patterns his team sees tell a different story, at least for some genes. On those genes, the level of 5-hmC is stably maintained and increases with age.
The Emory team used a method for chemically labeling 5-hmC they developed in cooperation with scientists at the University of Chicago. They find that 5-hmC is ten times more abundant in brain than in stem cells, and it is found more in the body of some genes, compared to stem cells.
In addition, the researchers found a relative lack of 5-hmC on X chromosomes in both males and females. That result is a surprise, Jin says, because it was already known that the X chromosome is subject to a special form of regulation in females only. Males have one X chromosome and females have two, and in female cells one of the X chromosomes is inactivated.
Jin's team is beginning to map how 5-hmC changes in neurological disorders, including Rett syndrome and autism, and refining techniques for detecting 5-hmC in DNA at high resolution.
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Simons Foundation and the Emory Genetics Discovery Initiative.
Reference: K.E. Szulwach et al 5-hydroxymethylcytosine–mediated epigenetic dynamics during postnatal neurodevelopment and aging. Nature Neuro. (2011).
Writer: Quinn Eastman
The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.Learn more about Emory's health sciences:
Holly Korschun | EurekAlert!
New yeast species discovered in Braunschweig, Germany
13.12.2019 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Saliva test shows promise for earlier and easier detection of mouth and throat cancer
13.12.2019 | Elsevier
Vaccinia viruses serve as a vaccine against human smallpox and as the basis of new cancer therapies. Two studies now provide fascinating insights into their unusual propagation strategy at the atomic level.
For viruses to multiply, they usually need the support of the cells they infect. In many cases, only in their host’s nucleus can they find the machines,...
More than one hundred and fifty years have passed since the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" (1865). What would our lives be without this publication?
It is difficult to imagine, as this treatise revolutionized our fundamental understanding of electric fields, magnetic fields, and light. The twenty original...
In a joint experimental and theoretical work performed at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, an international team of physicists detected for the first time an orbital crossing in the highly charged ion Pr⁹⁺. Optical spectra were recorded employing an electron beam ion trap and analysed with the aid of atomic structure calculations. A proposed nHz-wide transition has been identified and its energy was determined with high precision. Theory predicts a very high sensitivity to new physics and extremely low susceptibility to external perturbations for this “clock line” making it a unique candidate for proposed precision studies.
Laser spectroscopy of neutral atoms and singly charged ions has reached astonishing precision by merit of a chain of technological advances during the past...
The ability to investigate the dynamics of single particle at the nano-scale and femtosecond level remained an unfathomed dream for years. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that nanotechnology and femtoscience gradually merged together and the first ultrafast microscopy of individual quantum dots (QDs) and molecules was accomplished.
Ultrafast microscopy studies entirely rely on detecting nanoparticles or single molecules with luminescence techniques, which require efficient emitters to...
Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...
03.12.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2019 | Materials Sciences