A genome-wide analysis of CpG dinucleotides in the human genome distinguishes two distinct classes of promoters
A striking feature of the human genome is the dearth of CpG dinucleotides (CpGs) interrupted occasionally by CpG islands (CGIs), regions with relatively high content of the dinucleotide. CGIs are generally associated with promoters; genes, whose promoters are especially rich in CpG sequences, tend to be expressed in most tissues. However, all working definitions of what constitutes a CGI rely on ad hoc thresholds. Here we adopt a direct and comprehensive survey to identify the locations of all CpGs in the human genome and find that promoters segregate naturally into two classes by CpG content. Seventy-two percent of promoters belong to the class with high CpG content (HCG), and 28% are in the class whose CpG content is characteristic of the overall genome (low CpG content). The enrichment of CpGs in the HCG class is symmetric and peaks around the core promoter. The broad-based expression of the HCG promoters is not a consequence of a correlation with CpG content because within the HCG class the breadth of expression is independent of the CpG content. The overall depletion of CpGs throughout the genome is thought to be a consequence of the methylation of some germ-line CpGs and their susceptibility to mutation. A comparison of the frequencies of inferred deamination mutations at CpG and GpC dinucleotides in the two classes of promoters using SNPs in human-chimpanzee sequence alignments shows that CpGs mutate at a lower frequency in the HCG promoters, suggesting that CpGs in the HCG class are hypomethylated in the germ line.