DNA methylation in plants

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2006:301:67-122. doi: 10.1007/3-540-31390-7_4.


DNA in plants is highly methylated, containing 5-methylcytosine (m5C) and N6-methyladenine (m6A); m5C is located mainly in symmetrical CG and CNG sequences but it may occur also in other non-symmetrical contexts. m6A but not m5C was found in plant mitochondrial DNA. DNA methylation in plants is species-, tissue-, organelle- and age-specific. It is controlled by phytohormones and changes on seed germination, flowering and under the influence of various pathogens (viral, bacterial, fungal). DNA methylation controls plant growth and development, with particular involvement in regulation of gene expression and DNA replication. DNA replication is accompanied by the appearance of under-methylated, newly formed DNA strands including Okazaki fragments; asymmetry of strand DNA methylation disappears until the end of the cell cycle. A model for regulation of DNA replication by methylation is suggested. Cytosine DNA methylation in plants is more rich and diverse compared with animals. It is carried out by the families of specific enzymes that belong to at least three classes of DNA methyltransferases. Open reading frames (ORF) for adenine DNA methyltransferases are found in plant and animal genomes, and a first eukaryotic (plant) adenine DNA methyltransferase (wadmtase) is described; the enzyme seems to be involved in regulation of the mitochondria replication. Like in animals, DNA methylation in plants is closely associated with histone modifications and it affects binding of specific proteins to DNA and formation of respective transcription complexes in chromatin. The same gene (DRM2) in Arabidopsis thaliana is methylated both at cytosine and adenine residues; thus, at least two different, and probably interdependent, systems of DNA modification are present in plants. Plants seem to have a restriction-modification (R-M) system. RNA-directed DNA methylation has been observed in plants; it involves de novo methylation of almost all cytosine residues in a region of siRNA-DNA sequence identity; therefore, it is mainly associated with CNG and non-symmetrical methylations (rare in animals) in coding and promoter regions of silenced genes. Cytoplasmic viral RNA can affect methylation of homologous nuclear sequences and it maybe one of the feedback mechanisms between the cytoplasm and the nucleus to control gene expression.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / metabolism
  • Cytosine / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA-Cytosine Methylases / physiology*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Plants / genetics*
  • RNA / physiology
  • Site-Specific DNA-Methyltransferase (Adenine-Specific) / physiology*


  • Histones
  • RNA
  • Cytosine
  • DNA-Cytosine Methylases
  • Site-Specific DNA-Methyltransferase (Adenine-Specific)
  • Adenine