DNA methylation inhibits p53 mediated survivin repression in cancer cells

Nancy H Nabilsi, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Survivin (BIRC5) is a member of the Inhibitor of Apoptosis (IAP) gene family and functions as a chromosomal passenger protein as well as a mediator of cell survival. Survivin is widely expressed during embryonic development then becomes transcriptionally silent in most highly differentiated adult tissues. It is also overexpressed in virtually every type of tumor. The survivin promoter contains a canonical CpG island that has been described as epigenetically regulated by DNA methylation. We observed that survivin is overexpressed in high grade, poorly differentiated endometrial tumors, and we hypothesized that DNA hypomethylation could explain this expression pattern. Surprisingly, methylation specific PCR and bisulfite pyrosequencing analysis showed that survivin was hypermethylated in endometrial tumors and that this hypermethylation correlated with increased survivin expression. We proposed that methylation could activate survivin expression by inhibit the binding of a transcriptional repressor. The tumor suppressor protein p53 is a well documented transcriptional repressor of survivin and examination of the survivin promoter showed that the p53 binding site contains 3 CpG sites which often become methylated in endometrial tumors. To determine if methylation regulates survivin expression, we treated HCT116 cells with decitabine, a demethylation agent, and observed that survivin transcript and protein levels were significantly repressed following demethylation in a p53 dependent manner. Subsequent binding studies confirmed that DNA methylation inhibited the binding of p53 protein to its binding site in the survivin promoter. We are the first to report this novel mechanism of epigenetic regulation of survivin. We also conducted microarray analysis which showed that many other cancer relevant genes may also be regulated in this manner. While demethylation agents are traditionally thought to inhibit cancer cell growth by reactivating tumor suppressors, our results indicate that an additional important mechanism is to decrease the expression of oncogenes.

Subject Area

Cellular biology|Medicine

Recommended Citation

Nabilsi, Nancy H, "DNA methylation inhibits p53 mediated survivin repression in cancer cells" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3367969.