Neuronal DNA Methyltransferases: Epigenetic Mediators between Synaptic Activity and Gene Expression?

Neuroscientist. 2018 Apr;24(2):171-185. doi: 10.1177/1073858417707457. Epub 2017 May 17.


DNMT3A and 3B are the main de novo DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) in the brain that introduce new methylation marks to non-methylated DNA in postmitotic neurons. DNA methylation is a key epigenetic mark that is known to regulate important cellular processes in neuronal development and brain plasticity. Accumulating evidence disclosed rapid and dynamic changes in DNA methylation of plasticity-relevant genes that are important for learning and memory formation. To understand how DNMTs contribute to brain function and how they are regulated by neuronal activity is a prerequisite for a deeper appreciation of activity-dependent gene expression in health and disease. This review discusses the functional role of de novo methyltransferases and in particular DNMT3A1 in the adult brain with special emphasis on synaptic plasticity, memory formation, and brain disorders.

Keywords: DNA methylation; DNMT; cytosine methylation; learning; memory; neuroepigenetics; neuropsychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / enzymology
  • DNA Modification Methylases / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Synapses / enzymology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • DNA Modification Methylases