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Biological Chemistry

New Nucleoside’s Hangouts Revealed

Isotope-labeling experiment tracks 5-hydroxymethylcytosine partitioning in the brain

by Carmen Drahl
July 5, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 27

A mass spectrometry study has turned up a few surprises about which parts of the brain host a recently discovered piece of the DNA code. When researchers detected a new DNA nucleoside called 5-hydroxymethylcytosine last year, they suspected it might play a role in the brain, but its function remained unclear. Enter Thomas Carell, Martin Biel, and coworkers at Germany’s Ludwig Maximilians University. They made an 18O-labeled version of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine and used it as the cornerstone of an LC/MS method to determine how much of the compound is in various mouse brain tissues (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., DOI: 10.1002/anie.201002033). Scientists originally observed the nucleoside in the cerebellum, but the German team found far more of it in the cortex and hippocampus instead. They also found that the amount of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in the mouse hippocampus goes up with age. The researchers didn’t identify a specific function for the molecule, but they note that both the cortex and hippocampus are associated with higher cognitive functions such as memory.


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