5-Hydroxymethylcytosine: a stable or transient DNA modification?

Genomics. 2014 Nov;104(5):314-23. doi: 10.1016/j.ygeno.2014.08.015. Epub 2014 Aug 30.


The DNA base 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) is produced by enzymatic oxidation of 5-methylcytosine (5mC) by 5mC oxidases (the Tet proteins). Since 5hmC is recognized poorly by DNA methyltransferases, DNA methylation may be lost at 5hmC sites during DNA replication. In addition, 5hmC can be oxidized further by Tet proteins and converted to 5-formylcytosine and 5-carboxylcytosine, two bases that can be removed from DNA by base excision repair. The completed pathway represents a replication-independent DNA demethylation cycle. However, the DNA base 5hmC is also known to be rather stable and occurs at substantial levels, for example in the brain, suggesting that it represents an epigenetic mark by itself that may regulate chromatin structure and transcription. Focusing on a few well-studied tissues and developmental stages, we discuss the opposing views of 5hmC as a transient intermediate in DNA demethylation and as a modified DNA base with an instructive role.

Keywords: 5-Hydroxymethylcytosine; 5-Methylcytosine; DNA methylation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cytosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cytosine / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans


  • 5-carboxylcytosine
  • 5-formylcytosine
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • 5-hydroxymethylcytosine
  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • Cytosine