Active DNA demethylation mediated by DNA glycosylases

Annu Rev Genet. 2009;43:143-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-102108-134205.


Active DNA demethylation is involved in many vital developmental and physiological processes of plants and animals. Recent genetic and biochemical studies in Arabidopsis have demonstrated that a subfamily of DNA glycosylases function to promote DNA demethylation through a base excision-repair pathway. These specialized bifunctional DNA glycosylases remove the 5-methylcytosine base and then cleave the DNA backbone at the abasic site, resulting in a gap that is then filled with an unmethylated cytosine nucleotide by as yet unknown DNA polymerase and ligase enzymes. Evidence suggests that active DNA demethylation in mammalian cells is also mediated at least in part by a base excision repair pathway where the AID/Apobec family of deaminases convert 5-methylcytosine to thymine followed by G/T mismatch repair by the DNA glycosylase MBD4 or TDG. This review also discusses other possible mechanisms of active DNA demethylation, how genome DNA methylation status might be sensed to regulate the expression of demethylase genes, and the targeting of demethylases by small RNAs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA Glycosylases / genetics
  • DNA Glycosylases / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA Repair


  • DNA
  • DNA Glycosylases