Specific method for the determination of genomic DNA methylation by liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry

Anal Chem. 2005 Jan 15;77(2):504-10. doi: 10.1021/ac0489420.


Herein we report a novel method for determining genomic DNA methylation that utilizes liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS/MS) to measure 5-methyl-2'-deoxycytidine levels following enzymatic hydrolysis of genomic DNA. LC separation of 5-methyl-2'-deoxycytidine from the four deoxyribonucleosides, the four ribonucleosides, and 5-methyl-2'-cytidine, a RNA methylation product, has been achieved within 15 min. In combination with ESI-MS/MS detection, the reported method is highly specific and extremely sensitive with a limit of detection (LOD) of 0.2 fmol and a quantification linearity range from 1 fmol to 20 pmol. Genomic DNA methylation was expressed as the ratio of 5-methyl-2'-deoxycytidine to 2'-deoxyguanosine and was determined directly using 2'-deoxyguanosine as the internal standard. Because deoxycytidine methylation typically ranges from 2 to 6% in mammalian genomes, and pharmacological or genetic manipulations have not achieved levels lower than 0.1%, we validated the assay for methylation levels ranging from 0.05 to 10%. Importantly, both RNA contamination and incomplete DNA hydrolysis had no appreciable effect on 5-methyl-2'-deoxycytidine quantification. LOD studies indicate that only 4 ng of DNA is required for this assay. This LOD should permit the use of this method for applications having limiting amounts of DNA that were not previously candidates for global genomic DNA methylation analysis, e.g., clinical trial samples, or cells collected by laser capture microdissection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatography, Liquid / methods*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Deoxycytidine / analysis
  • Genome / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*


  • Deoxycytidine
  • 5-methyldeoxycytidine