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DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) catalyze DNA methylation, and their functions in mammalian embryonic development and diseases including cancer have been extensively studied. However, regulation of DNMTs remains under study. Here, we show that CCAAT/enhancer binding protein α (CEBPA) interacts with the long splice isoform DNMT3A, but not the short isoform DNMT3A2. CEBPA, by interacting with DNMT3A N-terminus, blocks DNMT3A from accessing DNA substrate and thereby inhibits its activity. Recurrent tumor-associated CEBPA mutations, such as preleukemic CEBPAN321D mutation, which is particularly potent in causing AML with high mortality, disrupt DNMT3A association and cause aberrant DNA methylation, notably hypermethylation of PRC2 target genes. Consequently, leukemia cells with the CEBPAN321D mutation are hypersensitive to hypomethylation agents. Our results provide insights into the functional difference between DNMT3A isoforms and the regulation of de novo DNA methylation at specific loci in the genome. Our study also suggests a therapeutic strategy for the treatment of CEBPA-mutated leukemia with DNA-hypomethylating agents.

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Science advances

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Huashan Hospital, Fudan University, and Shanghai Key Laboratory of Medical Epigenetics, International Co-laboratory of Medical Epigenetics and Metabolism (Ministry of Science and Technology), and Molecular and Cell Biology Lab, Institutes of Biomedical Sciences, Shanghai Medical College of Fudan University, Shanghai, China.