Dynamic Alu Methylation during Normal Development, Aging, and Tumorigenesis
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DNA methylation primarily occurs on CpG dinucleotides and plays an important role in transcriptional regulations during tissue development and cell differentiation. Over 25% of CpG dinucleotides in the human genome reside within Alu elements, the most abundant human repeats. The methylation of Alu elements is an important mechanism to suppress Alu transcription and subsequent retrotransposition. Decades of studies revealed that Alu methylation is highly dynamic during early development and aging. Recently, many environmental factors were shown to have a great impact on Alu methylation. In addition, aberrant Alu methylation has been documented to be an early event in many tumors and Alu methylation levels have been associated with tumor aggressiveness. The assessment of the Alu methylation has become an important approach for early diagnosis and/or prognosis of cancer. This review focuses on the dynamic Alu methylation during development, aging, and tumor genesis. The cause and consequence of Alu methylation changes will be discussed.