DNA methylation at the fifth position of cytosines (5mC) represents a major epigenetic modification in mammals. The recent discovery of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), resulting from 5mC oxidation, is redefining our view of the epigenome, as multiple studies indicate that 5hmC is not simply an intermediate of DNA demethylation, but a genuine epigenetic mark that may play an important functional role in gene regulation. Currently, the availability of platforms that discriminates between the presence of 5mC and 5hmC at single-base resolution is starting to shed light on the functions of 5hmC. In this review, we provide an overview of the genomic distribution of 5hmC, and examine recent findings on the role of this mark and the potential consequences of its misregulation during three fundamental biological processes: cell differentiation, cancer and aging.
Keywords: 5-hydroxymethylcytosine; Aging; Cancer; Cell differentiation; DNA methylation; Epigenetics.
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