High-throughput sequencing offers new insights into 5-hydroxymethylcytosine
Alina P.S. Pang, Christopher Sugai, and Alika K. Maunakea
Chemical modifications of DNA comprise epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to the maintenance of cellular activities and memory. Although the function of 5-methylcytosine (5-mC) has been extensively studied, little is known about the function(s) of relatively rarer and underappreciated cytosine modifications including 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC). The discovery that ten-eleven translocation (Tet) proteins mediate conversion of 5-mC to 5-hmC, and other oxidation derivatives, sparked renewed interest to understand the biological role of 5-hmC. Studies examining total 5-hmC levels revealed the highly dynamic yet tissue-specific nature of this modification, implicating a role in epigenetic regulation and development. Intriguingly, 5-hmC levels are highest during early development and in the brain where abnormal patterns of 5-hmC have been observed in disease conditions. Thus, 5-hmC adds to the growing list of epigenetic modifications with potential utility in clinical applications and warrants further investigation. This review discusses the emerging functional roles of 5-hmC in normal and disease states, focusing primarily on insights provided by recent studies exploring the genome-wide distribution of this modification in mammals.