Dnmt3a and Dnmt1 functionally cooperate during de novo methylation of DNA

Eur J Biochem. 2002 Oct;269(20):4981-4. doi: 10.1046/j.1432-1033.2002.03198.x.


Dnmt3a is a de novo DNA methyltransferase that modifies unmethylated DNA. In contrast Dnmt1 shows high preference for hemimethylated DNA. However, Dnmt1 can be activated for the methylation of unmodified DNA. We show here that the Dnmt3a and Dnmt1 DNA methyltransferases functionally cooperate in de novo methylation of DNA, because a fivefold stimulation of methylation activity is observed if both enzymes are present. Stimulation is observed if Dnmt3a is used before Dnmt1, but not if incubation with Dnmt1 precedes Dnmt3a, demonstrating that methylation of the DNA by Dnmt3a stimulates Dnmt1 and that no physical interaction of Dnmt1 and Dnmt3a is required. If Dnmt1 and Dnmt3a were incubated together a slightly increased stimulation is observed that could be due to a direct interaction of these enzymes. In addition, we show that Dnmt1 is stimulated for methylation of unmodified DNA if the DNA already carries some methyl groups. We conclude that after initiation of de novo methylation of DNA by Dnmt3a, Dnmt1 becomes activated by the pre-existing methyl groups and further methylates the DNA. Our data suggest that Dnmt1 also has a role in de novo methylation of DNA. This model agrees with the biochemical properties of these enzymes and provides a mechanistic basis for the functional cooperation of different DNA MTases in de novo methylation of DNA that has also been observed in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / chemistry
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA-Cytosine Methylases / chemistry
  • DNA-Cytosine Methylases / metabolism


  • DNA modification methylase HpaII
  • DNA-Cytosine Methylases
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA methyltransferase 3A
  • DNA methyltransferase 3B