Methylation-specific fluorescence in situ hybridization (MeFISH) was developed for microscopic visualization of DNA methylation status at specific repeat sequences in individual cells. MeFISH is based on the differential reactivity of 5-methylcytosine and cytosine in target DNA for interstrand complex formation with osmium and bipyridine-containing nucleic acids (ICON). Cell nuclei and chromosomes hybridized with fluorescence-labeled ICON probes for mouse major and minor satellite repeats were treated with osmium for crosslinking. After denaturation, fluorescent signals were retained specifically at satellite repeats in wild-type, but not in DNA methyltransferase triple-knockout (negative control) mouse embryonic stem cells. Moreover, using MeFISH, we successfully detected hypomethylated satellite repeats in cells from patients with immunodeficiency, centromeric instability and facial anomalies syndrome and 5-hydroxymethylated satellite repeats in male germ cells, the latter of which had been considered to be unmethylated based on anti-5-methylcytosine antibody staining. MeFISH will be suitable for a wide range of applications in epigenetics research and medical diagnosis.
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