Background: DNA methylation patterns are initiated by de novo DNA methyltransferases DNMT3a/3b adding methyl groups to CG dinucleotides in the hypomethylated genome of early embryos. These patterns are faithfully maintained by DNMT1 during DNA replication to ensure epigenetic inheritance across generations. However, this two-step model is based on limited data. Results: We generated base-resolution DNA methylomes for a series of DNMT knockout embryonic stem cells, with deep coverage at highly repetitive elements. We show that DNMT1 and DNMT3a/3b activities work complementarily and simultaneously to establish symmetric CG methylation and CHH (H = A, T or C) methylation. DNMT3a/3b can add methyl groups to daughter strands after each cycle of DNA replication. We also observe an unexpected division of labor between DNMT1 and DNMT3a/3b in suppressing retrotransposon long terminal repeats and long interspersed elements, respectively. Our data suggest that mammalian cells use a specific CG density threshold to predetermine methylation levels in wild-type cells and the magnitude of methylation reduction in DNMT knockout cells. Only genes with low CG density can be induced or, surprisingly, suppressed in the hypomethylated genome. Lastly, we do not find any association between gene body methylation and transcriptional activity. Conclusions: We show the concerted actions of DNMT enzymes in the establishment and maintenance of methylation patterns. The finding of distinct roles of DNMT1-dependent and -independent methylation patterns in genome stability and regulation of transcription provides new insights for understanding germ cell development, neuronal diversity, and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance and will help to develop next-generation DNMT inhibitors.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Cell Biology