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New nucleotide could revolutionize epigenetics
Date:4/16/2009

nal DNA methylation occurs in the earliest stages of life, influencing differentiation of embryonic stem cells into the different cell types that constitute the diverse organs, tissues and systems of the body. Recent research has shown, however, that environmental factors and experiences, such as the type of care a rat pup receives from its mother, can also result in methylation patterns and corresponding behaviors that are heritable for several generations. Thousands upon thousands of scientific papers have focused on the role of 5-methylcytosine in development.

The discovery of a new nucleotide may make biologists rethink their approaches to investigating DNA methylation. Ironically, the latest addition to the DNA vocabulary was found by chance during investigations of the level of 5-methylcytosine in the very large nuclei of Purkinje cells, says Skirmantas Kriaucionis, a postdoctoral associate in the Heintz lab, who did the research. "We didn't go looking for this modification," he says. "We just found it."

Kriaucionis was working to compare the levels of 5-methylcytosine in two very different but connected neurons in the mouse brain Purkinje cells, the largest brain cells, and granule cells, the most numerous and among the smallest. Together, these two types of cells coordinate motor function in the cerebellum. After developing a new method to separate the nuclei of individual cell types from one another, Kriaucionis was analyzing the epigenetic makeup of the cells when he came across substantial amounts of an unexpected and anomalous nucleotide, which he labeled 'x.'

It accounted for roughly 40 percent of the methylated cytosine in Purkinje cells and 10 percent in granule neurons. He then performed a series of tests on 'x,' including mass spectrometry, which determines the elemental components of molecules by breaking them down into their constituent parts, charging the particles and measuring their mass-to-charge ratio. He repea
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Contact: Brett Norman
bnorman@rockefeller.edu
212-327-7613
Rockefeller University
Source:Eurekalert

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