Examination of the specificity of DNA methylation profiling techniques towards 5-methylcytosine and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine

Nucleic Acids Res. 2010 Jun;38(11):e125. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkq223. Epub 2010 Apr 5.


DNA cytosine-5 methylation is a well-studied epigenetic pathway implicated in gene expression control and disease pathogenesis. Different technologies have been developed to examine the distribution of 5-methylcytosine (5mC) in specific sequences of the genome. Recently, substantial amounts of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), most likely derived from enzymatic oxidation of 5mC by TET1, have been detected in certain mammalian tissues. Here, we have examined the ability of several commonly used DNA methylation profiling methods to distinguish between 5mC and 5hmC. We show that techniques based on sodium bisulfite treatment of DNA are incapable of distinguishing between the two modified bases. In contrast, techniques based on immunoprecipitation with anti-5mC antibody (methylated DNA immunoprecipitation, MeDIP) or those based on proteins that bind to methylated CpG sequences (e.g. methylated-CpG island recovery assay, MIRA) do not detect 5hmC and are specific for 5mC unless both modified bases occur in the same DNA fragment. We also report that several methyl-CpG binding proteins including MBD1, MBD2 and MBD4 do not bind to sequences containing 5hmC. Selective mapping of 5hmC will require the development of unique tools for the detection of this modified base.

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine / analysis*
  • 5-Methylcytosine / immunology
  • Antibodies
  • Cytosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cytosine / analysis
  • Cytosine / metabolism
  • DNA / isolation & purification
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assay
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Oligonucleotides / chemistry
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sulfites


  • Antibodies
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Oligonucleotides
  • Sulfites
  • 5-hydroxymethylcytosine
  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • Cytosine
  • DNA
  • sodium bisulfite