Monitoring Dynamics of DNA Methylation at Single-Cell Resolution during Development and Disease.
Animal somatic cell DNA is characterized by a bimodal pattern of methylation: tissue-specific genes are methylated in most cell types whereas housekeeping genes have 5' CpG islands which are constitutively unmethylated. Because methyl moieties derived from the gametes are erased in the morula and early blastula, this profile must be re-established in every generation; this is apparently accomplished by a wave of non-CpG island de novo methylation that occurs at implantation. Using transfection into embryonic stem cells and transgenic mice as a model system, we now show that Sp1 elements play a key role in protecting a CpG island in the adenine phosphoribosyltransferase (APRT) gene from de novo methylation. This recognition mechanism represents a critical step in embryogenesis, as it is responsible for setting up the correct genome methylation pattern which, in turn, is involved in regulating basal gene expression in the organism.