A comparison of the fidelity of copying 5-methylcytosine and cytosine at a defined DNA template site

Nucleic Acids Res. 1992 Oct 11;20(19):5119-25. doi: 10.1093/nar/20.19.5119.


5-Methylcytosine has been postulated to be an endogenous mutagen in procaryotes and eucaryotes leading to base substitution hot spots, C-->T transitions, resulting from spontaneous deamination of mC to T. The possibility remains, however, that a second mechanism involving mispairing of mC with A might also contribute to base substitution mutagenesis via G-->A transitions. Stimulation of the G-->A mutational pathway could involve preferential misincorporation of dAMP opposite template mC compared to C. To investigate this possibility, we synthesized a sequence containing mC at a defined template location. We compared the fidelity of copying mC versus C and the efficiency of extending mismatched base pairs at the mC position using three DNA polymerases, AMV reverse transcriptase, Drosophila DNA polymerase alpha, and mutant Escherichia coli Klenow fragment containing no proofreading exonuclease activity. Significant differences in misinsertion and mismatch extension efficiencies were observed only for the case of AMV reverse transcriptase. AMV reverse transcriptase was observed to incorporate dAMP 4 to 5-fold more efficiently opposite mC than C. Favored extension of a 5-MeC.A over C.A mispair was also observed with a difference of about 3-fold. In contrast to AMV reverse transcriptase, Klenow fragment showed no significant difference when copying either mC or C sites or when extending mispairs involving mC and C. Incorporation of dAMP opposite either C or mC was barely detectable using pol alpha, although pol alpha has been observed to form A.C mismatches in other sequences. While we cannot completely exclude the possibility that dAMP might be incorporated opposite mC in preference to C, our results suggest that contributions of the G-->A pathway to mC mutagenic hot spots are likely to be minor, lending additional support to the model invoking deamination of mC.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • Animals
  • Avian Myeloblastosis Virus / enzymology
  • Base Sequence
  • Cytosine* / analogs & derivatives*
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA Polymerase I / metabolism*
  • DNA Polymerase II / metabolism*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Kinetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis
  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides / chemical synthesis
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Templates, Genetic


  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides
  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • Cytosine
  • DNA
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • DNA Polymerase I
  • DNA Polymerase II