Identification and characterization of putative methylation targets in the MAOA locus using bioinformatic approaches

Elena Shumay, Joanna S. Fowler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Monoamine oxidase A(MAO A) is an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of neurotransmitter amines. Afunctional polymorphism in the human MAOA gene (high- and low-MAOA) has been associated with distinct behavioral phenotypes. To investigate directly the biological mechanism whereby this polymorphism influences brain function, we recently measured the activity of the MAO Aenzyme in healthy volunteers. When found no relationship between the individual's brain MAO Alevel and the MAOA genotype, we postulated that there are additional regulatory mechanisms that control the MAOA expression. Given that DNAmethylation is linked to the regulation of gene expression, we hypothesized that epigenetic mechanisms factor into the MAOA expression. Our underplaying assumption was that the differences in an individual's genotype play a key role in the epigenetic potential of the MAOA locus and, consequently, determine the individual's level of MAO Aactivity in the brain. As a first step towards experimental validation of the hypothesis, we performed a comprehensive bioinformatic analysis aiming to interrogate genomic features and attributes of the MAOA locus that might modulate its epigenetic sensitivity. Major findings of our analysis are the following: (1) the extended MAOA regulatory region contains two CpG islands (CGIs), one of which overlaps with the canonical MAOA promoter and the other is located further upstream; both CGIs exhibit sensitivity to differential methylation. (2) The uVNTR's effect on the MAOA's transcriptional activity might have epigenetic nature: this polymorphic region resides within the MAOA's CGI and itself contains CpGs, thus, the number of repeating increments effectively changes the number of methylatable cytosines in the MAOA promoter. An array of in silico analyses (the nucleosome positioning, the physical properties of the local DNA, the clustering of transcription-factor binding sites) together with experimental data on histone modifications and Pol 2 sites and data from the RefSeq mRNAlibrary suggest that the MAOA gene might have an alternative promoter. Based on our findings, we propose a regulatory mechanism for the human MAOA according to which the MAOA expression in vivo is executed by the generation of tissue-specific transcripts initiated from the alternative promoters (both CGI-associated) where transcriptional activation of a particular promoter is under epigenetic control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-342
Number of pages18
Issue number4
StatePublished - 16 May 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Computational analysis
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetic potential
  • Epigenetic regulation
  • Human MAOA gene


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