A DNA methylation reader complex that enhances gene transcription

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Science  07 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6419, pp. 1182-1186
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7854

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DNA methylation promotes transcription

DNA methylation generally represses transcription, but in some instances, it has also been implicated in transcription activation. Harris et al. identified a protein complex in Arabidopsis that is recruited to chromatin by DNA methylation. This complex specifically activated the transcription of genes that are already mildly transcribed but had no effect on transcriptionally silent genes such as transposable elements. The complex thereby counteracts the repression effect caused by transposon insertion in neighboring genes while leaving transposons silent. Thus, by balancing both repressive and activating transcriptional effects, DNA methylation can act to fine-tune gene expression.

Science, this issue p. 1182


DNA methylation generally functions as a repressive transcriptional signal, but it is also known to activate gene expression. In either case, the downstream factors remain largely unknown. By using comparative interactomics, we isolated proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana that associate with methylated DNA. Two SU(VAR)3-9 homologs, the transcriptional antisilencing factor SUVH1, and SUVH3, were among the methyl reader candidates. SUVH1 and SUVH3 bound methylated DNA in vitro, were associated with euchromatic methylation in vivo, and formed a complex with two DNAJ domain-containing homologs, DNAJ1 and DNAJ2. Ectopic recruitment of DNAJ1 enhanced gene transcription in plants, yeast, and mammals. Thus, the SUVH proteins bind to methylated DNA and recruit the DNAJ proteins to enhance proximal gene expression, thereby counteracting the repressive effects of transposon insertion near genes.

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