Alcohol exposure promotes DNA methyltransferase DNMT3A upregulation through reactive oxygen species-dependent mechanisms

Cell Stress Chaperones. 2018 Jan;23(1):115-126. doi: 10.1007/s12192-017-0829-2. Epub 2017 Jul 15.


Abundant evidence has accumulated showing that fetal alcohol exposure broadly modifies DNA methylation profiles in the brain. DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs), the enzymes responsible for DNA methylation, are likely implicated in this process. However, their regulation by ethanol exposure has been poorly addressed. Here, we show that alcohol exposure modulates DNMT protein levels through multiple mechanisms. Using a neural precursor cell line and primary mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs), we found that ethanol exposure augments the levels of Dnmt3a, Dnmt3b, and Dnmt3l transcripts. We also unveil similar elevation of mRNA levels for other epigenetic actors upon ethanol exposure, among which the induction of lysine demethylase Kdm6a shows heat shock factor dependency. Furthermore, we show that ethanol exposure leads to specific increase in DNMT3A protein levels. This elevation not only relies on the upregulation of Dnmt3a mRNA but also depends on posttranscriptional mechanisms that are mediated by NADPH oxidase-dependent production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Altogether, our work underlines complex regulation of epigenetic actors in response to alcohol exposure at both transcriptional and posttranscriptional levels. Notably, the upregulation of DNMT3A emerges as a prominent molecular event triggered by ethanol, driven by the generation of ROS.

Keywords: DNA methyltransferases; Epigenetic regulators; Ethanol exposure; Heat shock factors; NADPH oxidase; Reactive oxygen species (ROS); Transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Heat Shock Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Mice
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation*


  • Dnmt3a protein, mouse
  • Heat Shock Transcription Factors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Ethanol
  • NADPH Oxidases
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A