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Statistical inference of in vivo properties of human DNA methyltransferases from double-stranded methylation patterns

Fu, Audrey Q.; Genereux, Diane P.; St�ger, Reinhard; Burden, Alice F.; Laird, Charles D.; Stephens, Matthew

Statistical inference of in vivo properties of human DNA methyltransferases from double-stranded methylation patterns Thumbnail


Audrey Q. Fu

Diane P. Genereux

Reinhard St�ger

Alice F. Burden

Charles D. Laird

Matthew Stephens


DNA methyltransferases establish methylation patterns in cells and transmit these patterns over cell generations, thereby influencing each cell's epigenetic states. Three primary DNA methyltransferases have been identified in mammals: DNMT1, DNMT3A and DNMT3B. Extensive in vitro studies have investigated key properties of these enzymes, namely their substrate specificity and processivity. Here we study these properties in vivo, by applying novel statistical analysis methods to double-stranded DNA methylation patterns collected using hairpin-bisulfite PCR. Our analysis fits a novel Hidden Markov Model (HMM) to the observed data, allowing for potential bisulfite conversion errors, and yields statistical estimates of parameters that quantify enzyme processivity and substrate specificity. We apply this model to methylation patterns established in vivo at three loci in humans: two densely methylated inactive X (Xi)-linked loci ( and ), and an autosomal locus (), where methylation densities are tissue-specific but moderate. We find strong evidence for a high level of processivity of DNMT1 at and , with the mean association tract length being a few hundred base pairs. Regardless of tissue types, methylation patterns at are dominated by DNMT1 maintenance events, similar to the two Xi-linked loci, but are insufficiently informative regarding processivity to draw any conclusions about processivity at that locus. At all three loci we find that DNMT1 shows a strong preference for adding methyl groups to hemi-methylated CpG sites over unmethylated sites. The data at all three loci also suggest low (possibly 0) association of the de novo methyltransferases, the DNMT3s, and are consequently uninformative about processivity or preference of these enzymes. We also extend our HMM to reanalyze published data on mouse DNMT1 activities in vitro. The results suggest shorter association tracts (and hence weaker processivity), and much longer non-association tracts than human DNMT1 in vivo.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 19, 2012
Deposit Date Apr 1, 2014
Publicly Available Date Apr 1, 2014
Journal PLoS ONE
Electronic ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 3
Article Number e32225
Public URL
Publisher URL


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