Okitsu CY, Hsieh CL
BACKGROUND: Attempts to enrich or identify DNA with cytosine methylation have been commonly carried out using anti-5-methylcytosine or anti-MBD2 (methyl-CpG binding domain protein 2) antibody in immunoprecipitation (IP) assays. However, a careful and systematic control experiment to examine the sensitivity and specificity of this approach has not been reported. It is of critical importance to understand the potential pitfalls of this approach and to avoid potential misinterpretation of findings. FINDINGS: We found that increased concentration of antibody used in the assay increased the amount of overall DNA captured as expected. The increased number of methylated cytosines in/on the DNA fragment also increased the amount of DNA captured by the antibody. Importantly, the antibody can bind to some fully unmethylated DNA fragments, even when fully methylated DNA is present in the same experiment. CONCLUSION: The sensitivity of anti-5-methylcytosine antibody and anti-MBD2 antibody/MBD2 binding varies with the number of methylated cytosines on the DNA target. The specificity of these antibodies can also vary for different DNA target sequences. DNA fragments with fewer CpG sites may not bind to these antibodies even when all are methylated while DNA fragments with more CpG sites may bind to the antibodies when only some of these sites are methylated. More importantly, binding of DNA to these antibodies does not always indicate the presence of DNA methylation. It is clear that false positive and false negative findings can be easily reached even though it does not nullify these convenient and simple methods completely. Great caution should be taken for the interpretation of IP results using these antibodies and rigorous confirmation by sodium bisulfite sequencing is essential.