Nature Reviews Genetics 14, 204-220 (March 2013) | doi:10.1038/nrg3354

DNA methylation: roles in mammalian development

Zachary D. Smith1,2,3 & Alexander Meissner1,2,3  About the authors


DNA methylation is among the best studied epigenetic modifications and is essential to mammalian development. Although the methylation status of most CpG dinucleotides in the genome is stably propagated through mitosis, improvements to methods for measuring methylation have identified numerous regions in which it is dynamically regulated. In this Review, we discuss key concepts in the function of DNA methylation in mammals, stemming from more than two decades of research, including many recent studies that have elucidated when and where DNA methylation has a regulatory role in the genome. We include insights from early development, embryonic stem cells and adult lineages, particularly haematopoiesis, to highlight the general features of this modification as it participates in both global and localized epigenetic regulation.

Author affiliations

  1. Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
  2. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA.
  3. Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

Correspondence to: Alexander Meissner1,2,3 Email:

Published online 12 February 2013