MeCP2, a methyl-CpG binding domain (MBD) protein, is known to bind to methylated CpG sites via a conserved MBD, leading to transcriptional repression. However, studies in cell-free system for gene repression and MeCP2 binding have suggested that DNA methylation-independent repression also occurs in living cells. It has been difficult to characterize the target genes of MeCP2 because a limited number have been identified to date. In this context, we screened for MeCP2 target genes using knockdown (KD) experiments combined with microarray gene expression analyses. Of the 49 genes that showed a more than three-fold increase in expression in two independent KD experiments conducted with different siRNA sets, unexpectedly, half (24 genes) did not contain promoter CpG islands (CGIs). Of seven selected genes that did contain CGIs, only two were methylated at the CGI, bound MeCP2 before KD, and reduced MeCP2 after KD. For three, MeCP2 was observed to bind to the unmethylated CGI before KD, and for one MeCP2 was reduced after KD. Another two genes neither had DNA methylation nor bound MeCP2 before KD. Gene ontology analysis suggested that MeCP2 represses a certain group of genes. These results suggest that in addition to the canonical gene repression function, MeCP2 can repress gene expression by binding to unmethylated DNA in particular genes in living cells.
2008 by The Genetics Society of Japan