Feldmann A, Ivanek R, Murr R, Gaidatzis D, Burger L, Schübeler D
Distal regulatory elements, including enhancers, play a critical role in regulating gene activity. Transcription factor binding to these elements correlates with Low Methylated Regions (LMRs) in a process that is poorly understood. Here we ask whether and how actual occupancy of DNA-binding factors is linked to DNA methylation at the level of individual molecules. Using CTCF as an example, we observe that frequency of binding correlates with the likelihood of a demethylated state and sites of low occupancy display heterogeneous DNA methylation within the CTCF motif. In line with a dynamic model of binding and DNA methylation turnover, we find that 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), formed as an intermediate state of active demethylation, is enriched at LMRs in stem and somatic cells. Moreover, a significant fraction of changes in 5hmC during differentiation occurs at these regions, suggesting that transcription factor activity could be a key driver for active demethylation. Since deletion of CTCF is lethal for embryonic stem cells, we used genetic deletion of REST as another DNA-binding factor implicated in LMR formation to test this hypothesis. The absence of REST leads to a decrease of hydroxymethylation and a concomitant increase of DNA methylation at its binding sites. These data support a model where DNA-binding factors can mediate turnover of DNA methylation as an integral part of maintenance and reprogramming of regulatory regions.