Cytosine DNA methylation in vertebrates is widespread, but methylation in plants is found almost exclusively at transposable elements and repetitive DNA (1) . Within regions of methylation, methylcytosines are typically found in CG, CNG, and asymmetric contexts. CG sites are maintained by a plant homolog of mammalian Dnmt1 acting on hemi-methylated DNA after replication. Methylation of CNG and asymmetric sites appears to be maintained at each cell cycle by other mechanisms. We report a new type of DNA methylation in Arabidopsis , dense CG methylation clusters found at scattered sites throughout the genome. These clusters lack non-CG methylation and are preferentially found in genes, although they are relatively deficient toward the 5′ end. CG methylation clusters are present in lines derived from different accessions and in mutants that eliminate de novo methylation, indicating that CG methylation clusters are stably maintained at specific sites. Because 5-methylcytosine is mutagenic, the appearance of CG methylation clusters over evolutionary time predicts a genome-wide deficiency of CG dinucleotides and an excess of C(A/T)G trinucleotides within transcribed regions. This is exactly what we find, implying that CG methylation clusters have contributed profoundly to plant gene evolution. We suggest that CG methylation clusters silence cryptic promoters that arise sporadically within transcription units.
Current Biology – Elsevier
Published: Jan 26, 2005
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