Epigenetic mechanisms in mammals

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2009 Feb;66(4):596-612. doi: 10.1007/s00018-008-8432-4.


DNA and histone methylation are linked and subjected to mitotic inheritance in mammals. Yet how methylation is propagated and maintained between successive cell divisions is not fully understood. A series of enzyme families that can add methylation marks to cytosine nucleobases, and lysine and arginine amino acid residues has been discovered. Apart from methyltransferases, there are also histone modification enzymes and accessory proteins, which can facilitate and/or target epigenetic marks. Several lysine and arginine demethylases have been discovered recently, and the presence of an active DNA demethylase is speculated in mammalian cells. A mammalian methyl DNA binding protein MBD2 and de novo DNA methyltransferase DNMT3A and DNMT3B are shown experimentally to possess DNA demethylase activity. Thus, complex mammalian epigenetic mechanisms appear to be dynamic yet reversible along with a well-choreographed set of events that take place during mammalian development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Modification Methylases / genetics
  • DNA Modification Methylases / metabolism
  • Dosage Compensation, Genetic
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genomic Imprinting
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics*


  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • DNA Modification Methylases