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DNA methylation, a form of epigenetic gene regulation, is important for normal cellular function. In cells, proteins called DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) establish and maintain the DNA methylation pattern. Changes to the normal DNA methylation pattern are linked to cancer development and progression, making DNMTs potential cancer drug targets. Thus, identifying and characterizing novel small molecule inhibitors of these enzymes is of great importance. This paper presents a protocol that can be used to screen for DNA methyltransferase inhibitors. The continuous coupled kinetics assay allows for initial velocities of DNA methylation to be determined in the presence and absence of potential small molecule inhibitors. The assay uses the methyl-sensitive endonuclease Gla I to couple methylation of a hemimethylated DNA substrate to fluorescence generation.

This continuous assay allows for enzyme activity to be monitored in real time. Conducting the assay in small volumes in microtiter plates reduces the cost of reagents. Using this assay, a small example screen was conducted for inhibitors of DNMT1, the most abundant DNMT isozyme in humans. The highly substituted anthraquinone natural product, laccaic acid A, is a potent, DNA-competitive inhibitor of DNMT1. Here, we examine three potential small molecule inhibitors — anthraquinones or anthraquinone-like molecules with one to three substituents — at two concentrations to describe the assay protocol. Initial velocities are used to calculate the percent activity observed in the presence of each molecule. One of three compounds examined exhibits concentration-dependent inhibition of DNMT1 activity, indicating that it is a potential inhibitor of DNMT1.


J. Vis. Exp.



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