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Permanent changes in brain genes may not be so permanent after all

y went, that gene is shut off forever. "This became dogma," Song says. "Once cells become the right type, they don't change their identity or DNA methylation."

But non-CpG methylation seems to happen later, when the neuron is matureand even after conventional wisdom said it was irreversible. The researchers learned this from an experiment in which they knocked out in adult mice the enzymes that attach methyl groups to DNA. They found the neurons still had just as much CpG methylation, but the non-CpG methylation dropped off. This suggests that non-CpG methylation is an active process, Song says, with methyl groups continually being taken off and put back on, adding to evidence that non-CpG methylation may play more of a role in managing operations in mature cells.

The researchers also found a way that non-CpG methylation is similar to CpG methylation in one important way: it's read by MeCP2, an enzyme long identified as a player in methylation.

That's significant because a mutation in MeCP2 causes Rett Syndrome, and understanding DNA methylation is key to understanding this syndrome. The disorder occurs, Song says, when working copies of the gene for MeCP2 are silenced during development.


Contact: Vanessa McMains
Johns Hopkins Medicine

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