DNA methylation is one way to encode epigenetic information and plays a crucial role in regulating gene expression during embryonic development. DNA methylation marks are established by the DNA methyltransferases and, recently, a mechanism for active DNA demethylation has emerged involving the ten-eleven translocator proteins and thymine DNA glycosylase (TDG). However, so far it is not clear how these enzymes are recruited to, and regulate DNA methylation at, specific genomic loci. A number of studies imply that sequence-specific transcription factors are involved in targeting DNA methylation and demethylation processes. Oestrogen receptor beta (ERβ) is a ligand-inducible transcription factor regulating gene expression in response to the female sex hormone oestrogen. Previously, we found that ERβ deficiency results in changes in DNA methylation patterns at two gene promoters, implicating an involvement of ERβ in DNA methylation. In this study, we set out to explore this involvement on a genome-wide level, and to investigate the underlying mechanisms of this function.
Using reduced representation bisulfite sequencing, we compared genome-wide DNA methylation in mouse embryonic fibroblasts derived from wildtype and ERβ knock-out mice, and identified around 8000 differentially methylated positions (DMPs). Validation and further characterisation of selected DMPs showed that differences in methylation correlated with changes in expression of the nearest gene. Additionally, re-introduction of ERβ into the knock-out cells could reverse hypermethylation and reactivate expression of some of the genes. We also show that ERβ is recruited to regions around hypermethylated DMPs. Finally, we demonstrate here that ERβ interacts with TDG and that TDG binds ERβ-dependently to hypermethylated DMPs.
We provide evidence that ERβ plays a role in regulating DNA methylation at specific genomic loci, likely as the result of its interaction with TDG at these regions. Our findings imply a novel function of ERβ, beyond direct transcriptional control, in regulating DNA methylation at target genes. Further, they shed light on the question how DNA methylation is regulated at specific genomic loci by supporting a concept in which sequence-specific transcription factors can target factors that regulate DNA methylation patterns.