Effects of DNA methylation on nucleosome stability

Nucleic Acids Res. 2013 Mar 1;41(5):2918-31. doi: 10.1093/nar/gks893. Epub 2013 Jan 25.


Methylation of DNA at CpG dinucleotides represents one of the most important epigenetic mechanisms involved in the control of gene expression in vertebrate cells. In this report, we conducted nucleosome reconstitution experiments in conjunction with high-throughput sequencing on 572 KB of human DNA and 668 KB of mouse DNA that was unmethylated or methylated in order to investigate the effects of this epigenetic modification on the positioning and stability of nucleosomes. The results demonstrated that a subset of nucleosomes positioned by nucleotide sequence was sensitive to methylation where the modification increased the affinity of these sequences for the histone octamer. The features that distinguished these nucleosomes from the bulk of the methylation-insensitive nucleosomes were an increase in the frequency of CpG dinucleotides and a unique rotational orientation of CpGs such that their minor grooves tended to face toward the histones in the nucleosome rather than away. These methylation-sensitive nucleosomes were preferentially associated with exons as compared to introns while unmethylated CpG islands near transcription start sites became enriched in nucleosomes upon methylation. The results of this study suggest that the effects of DNA methylation on nucleosome stability in vitro can recapitulate what has been observed in the cell and provide a direct link between DNA methylation and the structure and function of chromatin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromosomes, Artificial, Bacterial / genetics
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Exons
  • Humans
  • Introns
  • Isochores / genetics
  • Isochores / metabolism*
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Transcription Initiation Site


  • Isochores
  • Nucleosomes