Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Jean-Pierre Issa

Committee Member

Sharon Dent

Committee Member

Peng Huang

Committee Member

Russell R. Broaddus

Committee Member

Xiaobing Shi


Repression of many tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) in cancer is mediated by aberrantly increased DNA methylation levels at promoter CpG islands (CGI). About one-fourth of empirically defined human promoters are surrounded by or contain clustered repetitive elements. It was previously observed that a sharp transition of methylation occurs between highly methylated repetitive elements (SINE or LINE) and unmethylated CGI-promoters (e.g. P16, VHL, CDH and RIL) in normal tissues. The functions that lead to increased CGI methylation in cancer remain poorly understood. We propose that CGI-promoters contain cis-elements for triggering de novo DNA methylation. In the first part of our project, we established a site-specific integration system with enforced local transcriptional repression in colorectal cancer cells and monitored the occurrence of de novo DNA methylation in exogenous fragments containing a CGI-promoter and repetitive elements. Initial de novo methylation was seeded at specific CG sites in a repetitive element, and accelerated by persistent binding of a KRAB-containing transcriptional repressor. Furthermore, additional repetitive elements (LINE and SINE) located adjacent to the promoter could confer DNA methylation spreading into the CGI particularly in the setting of KRAB-factor binding. However, a repressive chromatin alone was not sufficient to initiate DNA methylation, which required specific DNA sequences and was integration-site (and/or cell-line) specific. In addition, all the methylation observed showed slow and gradual accumulation over several months of culture. Overall, these results demonstrate a requirement for specific DNA sequences to trigger de novo DNA methylation, and repetitive elements as cis-regulatory factors to cooperate with strengthened transcriptional repression in promoting methylation spreading. In the second part, we re-introduced disrupted DNMT3B or DNMT1 into HCT116 DKO cells and mapped the remethylation pattern through a profiling method (DREAM). Moderate remethylation occurred when DNMT3B was re-expressed with a preference toward non-CGI and non-promoter regions. Hence, there exists a set of genomic regions with priority to be targets for DNMT3B in somatic cells.


DNA methylation; repetitive elements; histone modification