The effect of DNA methylation in carcinogenesis

Jingmin Shu, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


CpG island methylation within single gene promoters can silence expression of associated genes. We first extended these studies to bidirectional gene pairs controlled by single promoters. We showed that hypermethylation of bidirectional promoter-associated CpG island silences gene pairs (WNT9A/CD558500, CTDSPL/BC040563, and KCNK15/BF 195580) simultaneously. Hypomethylation of these promoters by 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine treatment reactivated or enhanced gene expression bidirectionally. These results were further confirmed by luciferase assays. Methylation of WNT9A/CD558500 and CTDSPL/BC040563 promoters occurs frequently in primary colon cancers and acute lymphoid leukemia, respectively. Next we sought to understand the origins of hypermethylation in cancer. CpG islands associated with tumor suppressor genes are normally free from methylation, but can be hypermethylated in cancer. It remains poorly understood how these genes are protected from methylation in normal tissues. In our studies, we aimed to determine if cis-acting elements in these genes are responsible for this protection, using the tumor suppressor gene p16 as a model. We found that Alu repeats located both upstream and downstream of the p16 promoter become hypermethylated with age. In colon cancer samples, the methylation level is particularly high, and the promoter can also be affected. Therefore, the protection in the promoter against methylation spreading could fail during tumorigenesis. This methylation pattern in p16 was also observed in cell lines of different tissue origins, and their methylation levels were found to be inversely correlated with that of active histone modification markers (H3K4-3me and H3K9-Ac). To identify the mechanism of protection against methylation spreading, we constructed serial deletions of the p16 protected region and used silencing of a neomycin reporter gene to evaluate the protective effects of these fragments. A 126 bp element was identified within the region which exerts bidirectional protection against DNA methylation, independently of its transcriptional activity. The protective strength of this element is comparable to that of the HS4 insulator. During long-term culture, the presence of this element significantly slowed methylation spreading. In conclusion, we have found that an element located in the p16 promoter is responsible for protection against DNA methylation spreading in normal tissues. The failure of protective cis-elements may be a general feature of tumor-suppressor gene silencing during tumorigenesis.

Subject Area

Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Shu, Jingmin, "The effect of DNA methylation in carcinogenesis" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3343818.