DNA methylation plays a role in the repression of gene expression in animal cells. In the mouse preimplantation embryo, most genes are unmethylated but a wave of de novo methylation prior to gastrulation generates a bimodal pattern characterized by unmethylated CpG island- containing housekeeping genes and fully modified tissue-specific genes. Demethylation of individual genes then takes place during cell type specific differentiation, and this demodification may be a required step in the process of transcriptional activation. DNA modification is also involved in the maintenance of gene repression on the inactive X chromosome in female somatic cells and the marking of parental alleles at genomically imprinted gene loci.
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