Identification of methylated CpG motifs as inhibitors of the immune stimulatory CpG motifs

Gene Ther. 2001 Jul;8(13):1024-32. doi: 10.1038/


The unmethylated CpG motifs within E. coli DNA (EC) cause immune stimulation. In contrast, mammalian DNA such as calf thymus (CT) DNA had been thought to be immunologically inert. In this article, we demonstrate that CT DNA unexpectedly specifically inhibits the immune activation by EC but not that by endotoxin. This inhibitory effect was mediated in the signaling pathway activated by EC since CT DNA markedly inhibited the CpG-induced nuclear translocation of the transcription factors, NF-kappaB and AP-1. In addition, CT DNA significantly inhibited the synergistic immune activation by EC and endotoxin. The mechanism of the inhibition by CT DNA probably did not involve the inhibition of the cellular uptake of EC. Using a CpG-depleted plasmid, we demonstrated that CpG methylation played an important role in the inhibition by CT DNA. Compared with unmethylated plasmid DNA, CpG-methylated DNA inhibited the immune activation by EC to the same extent as did CT DNA. Importantly, the inhibitory effect of CT DNA was also observed in vivo. Our results suggest that methylated DNA may be applied to alleviate the unwanted immune stimulation and inflammation in systemic inflammatory response syndrome and in gene therapy with plasmid DNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Line
  • CpG Islands / immunology*
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • DNA / immunology
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA, Bacterial / immunology
  • DNA, Bacterial / pharmacokinetics
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Immunosuppression / methods*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • NF-kappa B / genetics
  • Plasmids
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology
  • Transcription Factor AP-1 / genetics


  • Cytokines
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • NF-kappa B
  • Transcription Factor AP-1
  • DNA