As part of the epigenetic network, DNA methylation is a major regulator of chromatin structure and function. In mammals, it mainly occurs at palindromic CpG sites, but asymmetric methylation at non-CpG sites is also observed. Three enzymes are involved in the generation and maintenance of DNA methylation patterns. DNMT1 has high preference for hemimethylated CpG sites, and DNMT3A and DNMT3B equally methylate unmethylated and hemimethylated DNA, and also introduce non-CpG methylation. Here, we review recent observations and novel insights into the structure and function of mammalian DNMTs (DNA methyltransferases), including new structures of DNMT1 and DNMT3A, data on their mechanism, regulation by post-translational modifications and on the function of DNMTs in cells. In addition, we present news findings regarding the allosteric regulation and targeting of DNMTs by chromatin modifications and chromatin proteins. In combination, the recent publications summarized here impressively illustrate the intensity of ongoing research in this field. They provide a deeper understanding of key mechanistic properties of DNMTs, but they also document still unsolved issues, which need to be addressed in future research.

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