Global Changes in DNA Methylation and Hydroxymethylation in Alzheimer's Disease Human Brain

Neurobiol Aging. 2014 Jun;35(6):1334-44. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2013.11.031. Epub 2013 Dec 4.


DNA methylation (5-methylcytosine [5mC]) is one of several epigenetic markers altered in Alzheimer's disease (AD) brain. More recently, attention has been given to DNA hydroxymethylation (5-hydroxymethylcytosine [5hmC]), the oxidized form of 5mC. Whereas 5mC is generally associated with the inhibition of gene expression, 5hmC has been associated with increased gene expression and is involved in cellular processes such as differentiation, development, and aging. Recent findings point toward a role for 5hmC in the development of diseases including AD, potentially opening new pathways for treating AD through correcting methylation and hydroxymethylation alterations. In the present study, levels of 5mC and 5hmC were investigated in the human middle frontal gyrus (MFG) and middle temporal gyrus (MTG) by immunohistochemistry. Immunoreactivity for 5mC and 5hmC were significantly increased in AD MFG (N = 13) and MTG (N = 29) compared with age-matched controls (MFG, N = 13 and MTG, N = 29). Global levels of 5mC and 5hmC positively correlated with each other and with markers of AD including amyloid beta, tau, and ubiquitin loads. Our results showed a global hypermethylation in the AD brain and revealed that levels of 5hmC were also significantly increased in AD MFG and MTG with no apparent influence of gender, age, postmortem delay, or tissue storage time. Using double-fluorescent immunolabeling, we found that in control and AD brains, levels of 5mC and 5hmC were low in astrocytes and microglia but were elevated in neurons. In addition, our colocalization study showed that within the same nuclei, 5mC and 5hmC mostly do not coexist. The present study clearly demonstrates the involvement of 5mC and 5hmC in AD emphasizing the need for future studies determining the exact time frame of these epigenetic changes during the progression of AD pathology.

Keywords: 5-Hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC); 5-Methylcytosine (5mC); Alzheimer's disease; DNA hydroxymethylation; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Human brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine / metabolism
  • 5-Methylcytosine / physiology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Cytosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cytosine / metabolism
  • Cytosine / physiology
  • DNA Methylation* / drug effects
  • DNA Methylation* / genetics
  • Disease Progression
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Genetic Markers*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus / metabolism


  • Genetic Markers
  • 5-hydroxymethylcytosine
  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • Cytosine