The emerging functions of histone demethylases

Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2008 Apr;18(2):159-68. doi: 10.1016/j.gde.2007.12.003. Epub 2008 Feb 20.


Epigenetic information refers to heritable changes in gene function that are stable between cell divisions but which is not a result of changes in the DNA sequence. Part of the epigenetic mechanism has been ascribed to modifications of histones or DNA that affects the transcription of specific genes. In this context, post-translational modifications of histone tails, in particular methylation of lysines, are regarded as important for the storage of epigenetic information. Regulation of this information plays an important role during cellular differentiation where cells with different characteristic features evolve from the same ancestor, despite identical genomic material. The characterization of several enzymes catalyzing histone lysine methylation have supported this concept by showing the requirement of these enzymes for normal development and their involvement in diseases such as cancer. The recent identification of proteins with histone demethylase activity has shown that the methylated mark is much more dynamic than previously anticipated, thereby potentially challenging the concept of histone-methylation in stable epigenetic programming.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Methylation
  • Oxidoreductases, N-Demethylating / classification
  • Oxidoreductases, N-Demethylating / genetics
  • Oxidoreductases, N-Demethylating / metabolism*
  • Phylogeny


  • Histones
  • Oxidoreductases, N-Demethylating