Regulation of transposable elements by DNA modifications

Nat Rev Genet. 2019 Jul;20(7):417-431. doi: 10.1038/s41576-019-0106-6.


Maintenance of genome stability requires control over the expression of transposable elements (TEs), whose activity can have substantial deleterious effects on the host. Chemical modification of DNA is a commonly used strategy to achieve this, and it has long been argued that the emergence of 5-methylcytosine (5mC) in many species was driven by the requirement to silence TEs. Potential roles in TE regulation have also been suggested for other DNA modifications, such as N6-methyladenine and oxidation derivatives of 5mC, although the underlying mechanistic relationships are poorly understood. Here, we discuss current evidence implicating DNA modifications and DNA-modifying enzymes in TE regulation across different species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine / metabolism*
  • Adenosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Adenosine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Transposable Elements*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genetic Drift
  • Humans
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • N-methyladenosine
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • Adenosine