DNA methylation dynamics underlie metamorphic gene regulation programs in Xenopus tadpole brain

Dev Biol. 2020 Jun 15;462(2):180-196. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2020.03.013. Epub 2020 Mar 31.


Methylation of cytosine residues in DNA influences chromatin structure and gene transcription, and its regulation is crucial for brain development. There is mounting evidence that DNA methylation can be modulated by hormone signaling. We analyzed genome-wide changes in DNA methylation and their relationship to gene regulation in the brain of Xenopus tadpoles during metamorphosis, a thyroid hormone-dependent developmental process. We studied the region of the tadpole brain containing neurosecretory neurons that control pituitary hormone secretion, a region that is highly responsive to thyroid hormone action. Using Methylated DNA Capture sequencing (MethylCap-seq) we discovered a diverse landscape of DNA methylation across the tadpole neural cell genome, and pairwise stage comparisons identified several thousand differentially methylated regions (DMRs). During the pre-to pro-metamorphic period, the number of DMRs was lowest (1,163), with demethylation predominating. From pre-metamorphosis to metamorphic climax DMRs nearly doubled (2,204), with methylation predominating. The largest changes in DNA methylation were seen from metamorphic climax to the completion of metamorphosis (2960 DMRs), with 80% of the DMRs representing demethylation. Using RNA sequencing, we found negative correlations between differentially expressed genes and DMRs localized to gene bodies and regions upstream of transcription start sites. DNA demethylation at metamorphosis revealed by MethylCap-seq was corroborated by increased immunoreactivity for the DNA demethylation intermediates 5-hydroxymethylcytosine and 5-carboxymethylcytosine, and the methylcytosine dioxygenase ten eleven translocation 3 that catalyzes DNA demethylation. Our findings show that the genome of tadpole neural cells undergoes significant changes in DNA methylation during metamorphosis, and these changes likely influence chromatin architecture, and gene regulation programs occurring during this developmental period.

Keywords: Brain development; DNA methylation; Metamorphosis; TET enzymes; Transcription; Xenopus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cysteine Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Demethylation
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Xenopus Proteins / metabolism
  • Xenopus laevis / embryology
  • Xenopus laevis / genetics*
  • Xenopus laevis / metabolism


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Xenopus Proteins
  • DNA
  • Cysteine Dioxygenase