The epigenetic DNA modification 5-carboxylcytosine promotes high levels of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer formation upon UVB irradiation

Genome Instab Dis. 2021 Feb;2(1):59-69. doi: 10.1007/s42764-020-00030-x. Epub 2021 Jan 2.


In mammals, DNA methyltransferases create 5-methylcytosines (5mC) predominantly at CpG dinucleotides. 5mC oxidases convert 5mC in three consecutive oxidation steps to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), 5-formylcytosine (5fC) and then 5-carboxylcytosine (5caC). Upon irradiation with UV light, dipyrimidines containing C, 5mC and 5hmC are known to form cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) as major DNA photolesions. However, the photobiology of 5fC and 5caC has remained largely unexplored. Here, we tested a series of oligonucleotides with single or multiple positions carrying cytosine (C), 5mC, 5hmC, 5fC or 5caC and irradiated them with different sources of UV irradiation. While UVC radiation produced CPDs near dipyrimidines containing all types of modified cytosine bases, UVB radiation produced by far the highest levels of CPDs near 5caC-containing sequences. Dipyrimidines one or two nucleotide positions adjacent to 5caC but not always those involving this modified base directly were the major sites for these prominent UVB photoproducts. This selectivity did not depend on whether 5caC was present on one or both DNA strands at CpG sequences. We also observed a tendency of the 5caC-containing DNA strands to undergo apparent covalent crosslinking. This reaction occurred with UVB or UVC but not with UVA irradiation. Our data show that 5-carboxylcytosine, although generally a rare base in the genome, can nonetheless make a strong contribution to sequence-specific DNA damage perhaps by acting as a DNA-intrinsic photosensitizer.