Background: DNA methylation in mammals is an epigenetic mark necessary for normal embryogenesis. During development active loss of methylation occurs in the male pronucleus during the first cell cycle after fertilisation. This is accompanied by major chromatin remodelling and generates a marked asymmetry between the paternal and maternal genomes. The mechanism(s) by which this is achieved implicate, among others, base excision repair (BER) components and more recently a major role for TET3 hydroxylase. To investigate these methylation dynamics further we have analysed DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation in fertilised mouse oocytes by indirect immunofluorescence (IF) and evaluated the relative contribution of different candidate factors for active demethylation in knock-out zygotes by three-dimensional imaging and IF semi-quantification.
Results: We find two distinct phases of loss of paternal methylation in the zygote, one prior to and another coincident with, but not dependent on, DNA replication. TET3-mediated hydroxymethylation is limited to the replication associated second phase of demethylation. Analysis of cytosine deaminase (AID) null fertilised oocytes revealed a role for this enzyme in the second phase of loss of paternal methylation, which is independent from hydroxymethylation. Investigation into the possible repair pathways involved supports a role for AID-mediated cytosine deamination with subsequent U-G mismatch long-patch BER by UNG2 while no evidence could be found for an involvement of TDG.
Conclusions: There are two observable phases of DNA demethylation in the mouse zygote, before and coincident with DNA replication. TET3 is only involved in the second phase of loss of methylation. Cytosine deamination and long-patch BER mediated by UNG2 appear to independently contribute to this second phase of active demethylation. Further work will be necessary to elucidate the mechanism(s) involved in the first phase of active demethylation that will potentially involve activities required for early sperm chromatin remodelling.