Crosstalk between DNA and histones: Tet's new role in embryonic stem cells

Xinyi Sui, Colles Price, Zejuan Li, Jianjun Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Embryonic stem (ES) cells are characterized by the expression of an extensive and interconnected network of pluripotency factors which are downregulated in specialized cells. Epigenetic mechanisms, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, are also important in maintaining this pluripotency program in ES cells and in guiding correct differentiation of the developing embryo. Methylation of the cytosine base of DNA blocks gene expression in all cell types and further modifications of methylated cytosine have recently been discovered. These new modifications, putative intermediates in a pathway to erase DNA methylation marks, are catalyzed by the ten-eleven translocation (Tet) proteins, specifically by Tet1 and Tet2 in ES cells. Surprisingly, Tet1 shows repressive along with active effects on gene expression depending on its distribution throughout the genome and co-localization with Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2). PRC2 di- and tri-methylates lysine 27 of histone 3 (H3K27me2/3 activity), marking genes for repression. In ES cells, almost all gene loci containing the repressive H3K27me3 modification also bear the active H3K4me3 modification, creating "bivalent domains" which mark important developmental regulators for timely activation. Incorporation of Tet1 into the bivalent domain paradigm is a new and exciting development in the epigenetics field, and the ramifications of this novel crosstalk between DNA and histone modifications need to be further investigated. This knowledge would aid reprogramming of specialized cells back into pluripotent stem cells and advance understanding of epigenetic perturbations in cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-608
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Genomics
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012


  • 5hmC
  • 5mC
  • DNA modification
  • ES cells
  • Epigenetics
  • Histone modification
  • Polycomb repressive complex
  • Tet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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