Theranostics 2016; 6(3):369-391. doi:10.7150/thno.13438


DNA Methyltransferase Activity Assays: Advances and Challenges

Wan Jun Poh, Cayden Pang Pee Wee, Zhiqiang Gao

Department of Chemistry, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117543

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Poh WJ, Wee CPP, Gao Z. DNA Methyltransferase Activity Assays: Advances and Challenges. Theranostics 2016; 6(3):369-391. doi:10.7150/thno.13438. Available from

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DNA methyltransferases (MTases), a family of enzymes that catalyse the methylation of DNA, have a profound effect on gene regulation. A large body of evidence has indicated that DNA MTase is potentially a predictive biomarker closely associated with genetic disorders and genetic diseases like cancer. Given the attention bestowed onto DNA MTases in molecular biology and medicine, highly sensitive detection of DNA MTase activity is essential in determining gene regulation, epigenetic modification, clinical diagnosis and therapeutics. Conventional techniques such as isotope labelling are effective, but they often require laborious sample preparation, isotope labelling, sophisticated equipment and large amounts of DNA, rendering them unsuitable for uses at point-of-care. Simple, portable, highly sensitive and low-cost assays are urgently needed for DNA MTase activity screening. In most recent technological advances, many alternative DNA MTase activity assays such as fluorescent, electrochemical, colorimetric and chemiluminescent assays have been proposed. In addition, many of them are coupled with nanomaterials and/or enzymes to significantly enhance their sensitivity. Herein we review the progress in the development of DNA MTase activity assays with an emphasis on assay mechanism and performance with some discussion on challenges and perspectives. It is hoped that this article will provide a broad coverage of DNA MTase activity assays and their latest developments and open new perspectives toward the development of DNA MTase activity assays with much improved performance for uses in molecular biology and clinical practice.

Keywords: DNA methyltransferase, DNA methylation, fluorometry, colourimetry, electrochemistry, chemiluminescence, electrochemiluminescence.