Subtelomeric methylation distinguishes between subtypes of Immunodeficiency, Centromeric instability and Facial anomalies syndrome

Hum Mol Genet. 2018 Oct 15;27(20):3568-3581. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddy265.


Human telomeres and adjacent subtelomeres are packaged as heterochromatin. Subtelomeric DNA undergoes methylation during development by DNA methyltransferase 3B (DNMT3B), including the CpG-rich promoters of the long non-coding RNA (TERRA) embedded in these regions. The factors that direct DNMT3B methylation to human subtelomeres and maintain this methylation throughout lifetime are yet unknown. The importance of subtelomeric methylation is manifested through the abnormal telomeric phenotype in Immunodeficiency, Centromeric instability and Facial anomalies (ICF) syndrome type 1 patients carrying mutations in DNMT3B. Patient cells demonstrate subtelomeric hypomethylation, accompanied by elevated TERRA transcription, accelerated telomere shortening and premature senescence of fibroblasts. ICF syndrome can arise due to mutations in at least three additional genes, ZBTB24 (ICF2), CDCA7 (ICF3) and HELLS (ICF4). While pericentromeric repeat hypomethylation is evident in all ICF syndrome subtypes, the status of subtelomeric DNA methylation had not been described for patients of subtypes 2-4. Here we explored the telomeric phenotype in cells derived from ICF2-4 patients with the aim to determine whether ZBTB24, CDCA7 and HELLS also play a role in establishing and/or maintaining human subtelomeric methylation. We found normal subtelomeric methylation in ICF2-4 and accordingly low TERRA levels and unperturbed telomere length. Moreover, depleting the ICF2-4-related proteins in normal fibroblasts did not influence subtelomeric methylation. Thus, these gene products are not involved in establishing or maintaining subtelomeric methylation. Our findings indicate that human subtelomeric heterochromatin has specialized methylation regulation and highlight the telomeric phenotype as a characteristic that distinguishes ICF1 from ICF2-4.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Multiple / genetics*
  • Abnormalities, Multiple / metabolism
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cell Line
  • Centromere
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics*
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • DNA Helicases / genetics*
  • DNA Helicases / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Face / abnormalities
  • Fibroblasts
  • Heterochromatin / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Deficiency Syndromes / genetics
  • Immunologic Deficiency Syndromes / metabolism
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mutation*
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics*
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Telomere / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • CDCA7 protein, human
  • Heterochromatin
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins
  • ZBTB24 protein, human
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA methyltransferase 3B
  • DNA Helicases
  • HELLS protein, human