In the mammalian genome, ~70% of cytosines within 5'-CpG-3'dinucleotides are methylated, an epigenetic modification correlating with transcriptional silencing. Twice in pluripotent early development, DNA methylation is globally erased. It is then re-established and maintained throughout somatic cell differentiation. Until recently, no global methylation changes were thought to occur in normal somatic cells. This long-held dogma was overturned by our discovery that erythroid differentiation is associated with DNA demethylation at nearly all genomic elements. Global demethylation is required for rapid erythroid gene induction. It represents a novel genome-wide epigenetic transformation essential for erythroid maturation, whose mechanism is as yet unknown. We hypothesize that disruption of global erythroid demethylation may underlie syndromes of erythropoietin-resistant anemias. Indeed, genome-wide aberrant DNA methylation was recently found in the refractory anemias classified as myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), where demethylation therapy is successful. Our long-term goal is to elucidate the mechanism and function of global DNA demethylation in erythropoiesis and the consequences of its dysregulation. During replication, DNA methyltransferase 1 (Dnmt1) methylates nascent DNA, thereby maintaining DNA methylation across cell generations. Erythroid global demethylation is dependent on DNA replication, suggesting impaired Dnmt1 function. Demethylation further requires an accelerated intra-S phase DNA synthesis, a recently-discovered cell cycle behavior at the onset of erythroid differentiation whose mechanism is unknown. Demethylation in erythroblasts is not, however, associated with Dnmt1 loss, and cannot be prevented by Dnmt1 overexpression. Together, these observations suggest the hypothesis that erythroblasts contain mechanisms limiting the methylation capacity of Dnmt1. We propose to test this hypothesis with the following three aims:
Aim 1 : Determine whether 5mC in erythroid genomic DNA is subject to oxidation by the enzyme Tet2, resulting in replication-dependent, Dnmt1-resistant global demethylation Aim 2: Determine the role of the Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p57KIP2 in S phase acceleration and in erythroid global DNA demethylation.
Aim 3 : Determine the underlying mechanism of the accelerated intra-S phase DNA synthesis at the onset of erythroid differentiation: is it caused by an increased number of firing replication origins, or by increased rate of replication fork progression. Ask whether this process is regulated by the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p57KIP2. Funding of this work will elucidate how global methylation patterns are regulated, and may provide conceptually new avenues for therapy of erythropoietin-resistant anemias.

Public Health Relevance

DNA is made of four bases. One of the four bases, cytosine, can be modified by the addition of a methyl group. The resulting methylated DNA has different functional characteristics to those of unmethylated DNA. Specifically, methylated DNA tends to remain silent, suppressing the expression of genes. Until recently, the overall level of cytosine methylation in genomic DNA was thought to remain constant in normal body cells. This dogma was overturned by our recent finding that red cell progenitors undergo an unusual process of global demethylation, in which methylation is lost from the entire genome. We found that preventing this methylation loss interferes with the normal process of red cell gene expression. The mechanism of this novel finding is not known. The research proposed in this application aims to understand how the loss of methylation is regulated, and why it is required during red cell formation. This work will help mechanisms of anemias of myelodysplastic syndrome, which do not respond to available erythropoietin therapy, and where abnormal DNA methylation is a frequent finding.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Molecular and Cellular Hematology (MCH)
Program Officer
Bishop, Terry Rogers
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Khoramian Tusi, Betsabeh; Socolovsky, Merav (2018) High-throughput single-cell fate potential assay of murine hematopoietic progenitors in vitro. Exp Hematol 60:21-29.e3
Tusi, Betsabeh Khoramian; Wolock, Samuel L; Weinreb, Caleb et al. (2018) Population snapshots predict early haematopoietic and erythroid hierarchies. Nature 555:54-60
Hwang, Yung; Futran, Melinda; Hidalgo, Daniel et al. (2017) Global increase in replication fork speed during a p57KIP2-regulated erythroid cell fate switch. Sci Adv 3:e1700298
Koulnis, Miroslav; Porpiglia, Ermelinda; Hidalgo, Daniel et al. (2014) Erythropoiesis: from molecular pathways to system properties. Adv Exp Med Biol 844:37-58