The DNA methyltransferase DNMT3C protects male germ cells from transposon activity

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Science  18 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6314, pp. 909-912
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah5143

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Combating parasitic DNA by methylation

DNA methylation plays an important role in repressing the expression of “parasitic” DNAs, such as transposable elements, which have invaded our genomes. Mammals have three DNA methyltransferase enzymes. Barau et al. discovered a fourth DNA methyltransferase enzyme in mice. The enzyme DNMT3C is a duplication of DNMT3B and is found in male germ cells. There it targets evolutionarily young transposons, of which there is a heavy burden in the mouse genome. DNMT3C methylates and silences the young transposons, preserving male fertility.

Science, this issue p. 909


DNA methylation is prevalent in mammalian genomes and plays a central role in the epigenetic control of development. The mammalian DNA methylation machinery is thought to be composed of three DNA methyltransferase enzymes (DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B) and one cofactor (DNMT3L). Here, we describe the discovery of Dnmt3C, a de novo DNA methyltransferase gene that evolved via a duplication of Dnmt3B in rodent genomes and was previously annotated as a pseudogene. We show that DNMT3C is the enzyme responsible for methylating the promoters of evolutionarily young retrotransposons in the male germ line and that this specialized activity is required for mouse fertility. DNMT3C reveals the plasticity of the mammalian DNA methylation system and expands the scope of the mechanisms involved in the epigenetic control of retrotransposons.

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