Exocyclic carbons adjacent to the N6 of adenine are targets for oxidation by the Escherichia coli adaptive response protein AlkB

J Am Chem Soc. 2012 May 30;134(21):8896-901. doi: 10.1021/ja3010094. Epub 2012 May 21.


The DNA and RNA repair protein AlkB removes alkyl groups from nucleic acids by a unique iron- and α-ketoglutarate-dependent oxidation strategy. When alkylated adenines are used as AlkB targets, earlier work suggests that the initial target of oxidation can be the alkyl carbon adjacent to N1. Such may be the case with ethano-adenine (EA), a DNA adduct formed by an important anticancer drug, BCNU, whereby an initial oxidation would occur at the carbon adjacent to N1. In a previous study, several intermediates were observed suggesting a pathway involving adduct restructuring to a form that would not hinder replication, which would match biological data showing that AlkB almost completely reverses EA toxicity in vivo. The present study uses more sensitive spectroscopic methodology to reveal the complete conversion of EA to adenine; the nature of observed additional putative intermediates indicates that AlkB conducts a second oxidation event in order to release the two-carbon unit completely. The second oxidation event occurs at the exocyclic carbon adjacent to the N(6) atom of adenine. The observation of oxidation of a carbon at N(6) in EA prompted us to evaluate N(6)-methyladenine (m6A), an important epigenetic signal for DNA replication and many other cellular processes, as an AlkB substrate in DNA. Here we show that m6A is indeed a substrate for AlkB and that it is converted to adenine via its 6-hydroxymethyl derivative. The observation that AlkB can demethylate m6A in vitro suggests a role for AlkB in regulation of important cellular functions in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / chemistry*
  • Adenine / metabolism*
  • Carbon*
  • DNA Adducts / chemistry
  • DNA Adducts / genetics
  • DNA Adducts / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Repair
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mixed Function Oxygenases / metabolism*
  • Nitrogen*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • RNA / chemistry
  • RNA / genetics
  • RNA / metabolism


  • DNA Adducts
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • RNA
  • Carbon
  • Mixed Function Oxygenases
  • AlkB protein, E coli
  • Adenine
  • Nitrogen