Covalent modification by methylation of cytosine residues represents an important epigenetic hallmark. While sequence analysis after bisulphite conversion allows correlative analyses with single-base resolution, functional analysis by interference with DNA methylation is less precise, due to the complexity of methylation enzymes and their targets. A cytidine analogue, 5-azacytidine, is frequently used as an inhibitor of DNA methyltransferases, but its rapid degradation in aqueous solution is problematic for culture periods of longer than a few hours. Application of zebularine, a more stable cytidine analogue with a similar mode of action that is successfully used as a methylation inhibitor in Neurospora and mammalian tumour cell lines, can significantly reduce DNA methylation in plants in a dose-dependent and transient manner independent of sequence context. Demethylation is connected with transcriptional reactivation and partial decondensation of heterochromatin. Zebularine represents a promising new and versatile tool for investigating the role of DNA methylation in plants with regard to transcriptional control, maintenance and formation of (hetero-) chromatin
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