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1.  Aberrant DNA Methylation of OLIG1, a Novel Prognostic Factor in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(3):e108.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Currently, tumor, node, metastasis (TNM) staging provides the most accurate prognostic parameter for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, the overall survival of patients with resectable tumors varies significantly, indicating the need for additional prognostic factors to better predict the outcome of the disease, particularly within a given TNM subset.
Methods and Findings
In this study, we investigated whether adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas could be differentiated based on their global aberrant DNA methylation patterns. We performed restriction landmark genomic scanning on 40 patient samples and identified 47 DNA methylation targets that together could distinguish the two lung cancer subgroups. The protein expression of one of those targets, oligodendrocyte transcription factor 1 (OLIG1), significantly correlated with survival in NSCLC patients, as shown by univariate and multivariate analyses. Furthermore, the hazard ratio for patients negative for OLIG1 protein was significantly higher than the one for those patients expressing the protein, even at low levels.
Multivariate analyses of our data confirmed that OLIG1 protein expression significantly correlates with overall survival in NSCLC patients, with a relative risk of 0.84 (95% confidence interval 0.77–0.91, p < 0.001) along with T and N stages, as indicated by a Cox proportional hazard model. Taken together, our results suggests that OLIG1 protein expression could be utilized as a novel prognostic factor, which could aid in deciding which NSCLC patients might benefit from more aggressive therapy. This is potentially of great significance, as the addition of postoperative adjuvant chemotherapy in T2N0 NSCLC patients is still controversial.
Christopher Plass and colleagues find thatOLIG1 expression correlates with survival in lung cancer patients and suggest that it could be used in deciding which patients are likely to benefit from more aggressive therapy.
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the commonest cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Most cases are of a type called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Like other cancers, treatment of NCSLC depends on the “TNM stage” at which the cancer is detected. Staging takes into account the size and local spread of the tumor (its T classification), whether nearby lymph nodes contain tumor cells (its N classification), and whether tumor cells have spread (metastasized) throughout the body (its M classification). Stage I tumors are confined to the lung and are removed surgically. Stage II tumors have spread to nearby lymph nodes and are treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Stage III tumors have spread throughout the chest, and stage IV tumors have metastasized around the body; patients with both of these stages are treated with chemotherapy alone. About 70% of patients with stage I or II lung cancer, but only 2% of patients with stage IV lung cancer, survive for five years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
TNM staging is the best way to predict the likely outcome (prognosis) for patients with NSCLC, but survival times for patients with stage I and II tumors vary widely. Another prognostic marker—maybe a “molecular signature”—that could distinguish patients who are likely to respond to treatment from those whose cancer will inevitably progress would be very useful. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells divide uncontrollably and can move around the body. These behavioral changes are caused by alterations in the pattern of proteins expressed by the cells. But what causes these alterations? The answer in some cases is “epigenetic changes” or chemical modifications of genes. In cancer cells, methyl groups are aberrantly added to GC-rich gene regions. These so-called “CpG islands” lie near gene promoters (sequences that control the transcription of DNA into mRNA, the template for protein production), and their methylation stops the promoters working and silences the gene. In this study, the researchers have investigated whether aberrant methylation patterns vary between NSCLC subtypes and whether specific aberrant methylations are associated with survival and can, therefore, be used prognostically.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used “restriction landmark genomic scanning” (RLGS) to catalog global aberrant DNA methylation patterns in human lung tumor samples. In RLGS, DNA is cut into fragments with a restriction enzyme (a protein that cuts at specific DNA sequences), end-labeled, and separated using two-dimensional gel electrophoresis to give a pattern of spots. Because methylation stops some restriction enzymes cutting their target sequence, normal lung tissue and lung tumor samples yield different patterns of spots. The researchers used these patterns to identify 47 DNA methylation targets (many in CpG islands) that together distinguished between adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, two major types of NSCLCs. Next, they measured mRNA production from the genes with the greatest difference in methylation between adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. OLIG1 (the gene that encodes a protein involved in nerve cell development) had one of the highest differences in mRNA production between these tumor types. Furthermore, three-quarters of NSCLCs had reduced or no expression of OLIG1 protein and, when the researchers analyzed the association between OLIG1 protein expression and overall survival in patients with NSCLC, reduced OLIG1 protein expression was associated with reduced survival.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that different types of NSCLC can be distinguished by examining their aberrant methylation patterns. This suggests that the establishment of different DNA methylation patterns might be related to the cell type from which the tumors developed. Alternatively, the different aberrant methylation patterns might reflect the different routes that these cells take to becoming tumor cells. This research identifies a potential new prognostic marker for NSCLC by showing that OLIG1 protein expression correlates with overall survival in patients with NSCLC. This correlation needs to be tested in a clinical setting to see if adding OLIG1 expression to the current prognostic parameters can lead to better treatment choices for early-stage lung cancer patients and ultimately improve these patients' overall survival.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Patient and professional information on lung cancer, including staging (in English and Spanish), is available from the US National Cancer Institute
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on non-small cell lung cancer (in English and Spanish)
Cancerbackup provides patient information on lung cancer
CancerQuest, provided by Emory University, has information about how cancer develops (in English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian)
Wikipedia pages on epigenetics (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The Epigenome Network of Excellence gives background information and the latest news about epigenetics (in several European languages)
PMCID: PMC1831740  PMID: 17388669
2.  A Genome-Wide Screen for Promoter Methylation in Lung Cancer Identifies Novel Methylation Markers for Multiple Malignancies  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e486.
Promoter hypermethylation coupled with loss of heterozygosity at the same locus results in loss of gene function in many tumor cells. The “rules” governing which genes are methylated during the pathogenesis of individual cancers, how specific methylation profiles are initially established, or what determines tumor type-specific methylation are unknown. However, DNA methylation markers that are highly specific and sensitive for common tumors would be useful for the early detection of cancer, and those required for the malignant phenotype would identify pathways important as therapeutic targets.
Methods and Findings
In an effort to identify new cancer-specific methylation markers, we employed a high-throughput global expression profiling approach in lung cancer cells. We identified 132 genes that have 5′ CpG islands, are induced from undetectable levels by 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine in multiple non-small cell lung cancer cell lines, and are expressed in immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells. As expected, these genes were also expressed in normal lung, but often not in companion primary lung cancers. Methylation analysis of a subset (45/132) of these promoter regions in primary lung cancer (n = 20) and adjacent nonmalignant tissue (n = 20) showed that 31 genes had acquired methylation in the tumors, but did not show methylation in normal lung or peripheral blood cells. We studied the eight most frequently and specifically methylated genes from our lung cancer dataset in breast cancer (n = 37), colon cancer (n = 24), and prostate cancer (n = 24) along with counterpart nonmalignant tissues. We found that seven loci were frequently methylated in both breast and lung cancers, with four showing extensive methylation in all four epithelial tumors.
By using a systematic biological screen we identified multiple genes that are methylated with high penetrance in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers. The cross-tumor methylation pattern we observed for these novel markers suggests that we have identified a partial promoter hypermethylation signature for these common malignancies. These data suggest that while tumors in different tissues vary substantially with respect to gene expression, there may be commonalities in their promoter methylation profiles that represent targets for early detection screening or therapeutic intervention.
John Minna and colleagues report that a group of genes are commonly methylated in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Editors' Summary
Tumors or cancers contain cells that have lost many of the control mechanisms that normally regulate their behavior. Unlike normal cells, which only divide to repair damaged tissues, cancer cells divide uncontrollably. They also gain the ability to move round the body and start metastases in secondary locations. These changes in behavior result from alterations in their genetic material. For example, mutations (permanent changes in the sequence of nucleotides in the cell's DNA) in genes known as oncogenes stimulate cells to divide constantly. Mutations in another group of genes—tumor suppressor genes—disable their ability to restrain cell growth. Key tumor suppressor genes are often completely lost in cancer cells. But not all the genetic changes in cancer cells are mutations. Some are “epigenetic” changes—chemical modifications of genes that affect the amount of protein made from them. In cancer cells, methyl groups are often added to CG-rich regions—this is called hypermethylation. These “CpG islands” lie near gene promoters—sequences that control the transcription of DNA into RNA, the template for protein production—and their methylation switches off the promoter. Methylation of the promoter of one copy of a tumor suppressor gene, which often coincides with the loss of the other copy of the gene, is thought to be involved in cancer development.
Why Was This Study Done?
The rules that govern which genes are hypermethylated during the development of different cancer types are not known, but it would be useful to identify any DNA methylation events that occur regularly in common cancers for two reasons. First, specific DNA methylation markers might be useful for the early detection of cancer. Second, identifying these epigenetic changes might reveal cellular pathways that are changed during cancer development and so identify new therapeutic targets. In this study, the researchers have used a systematic biological screen to identify genes that are methylated in many lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers—all cancers that form in “epithelial” tissues.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used microarray expression profiling to examine gene expression patterns in several lung cancer and normal lung cell lines. In this technique, labeled RNA molecules isolated from cells are applied to a “chip” carrying an array of gene fragments. Here, they stick to the fragment that represents the gene from which they were made, which allows the genes that the cells express to be catalogued. By comparing the expression profiles of lung cancer cells and normal lung cells before and after treatment with a chemical that inhibits DNA methylation, the researchers identified genes that were methylated in the cancer cells—that is, genes that were expressed in normal cells but not in cancer cells unless methylation was inhibited. 132 of these genes contained CpG islands. The researchers examined the promoters of 45 of these genes in lung cancer cells taken straight from patients and found that 31 of the promoters were methylated in tumor tissues but not in adjacent normal tissues. Finally, the researchers looked at promoter methylation of the eight genes most frequently and specifically methylated in the lung cancer samples in breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Seven of the genes were frequently methylated in both lung and breast cancers; four were extensively methylated in all the tumor types.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results identify several new genes that are often methylated in four types of epithelial tumor. The observation that these genes are methylated in multiple independent tumors strongly suggests, but does not prove, that loss of expression of the proteins that they encode helps to convert normal cells into cancer cells. The frequency and diverse patterning of promoter methylation in different tumor types also indicates that methylation is not a random event, although what controls the patterns of methylation is not yet known. The identification of these genes is a step toward building a promoter hypermethylation profile for the early detection of human cancer. Furthermore, although tumors in different tissues vary greatly with respect to gene expression patterns, the similarities seen in this study in promoter methylation profiles might help to identify new therapeutic targets common to several cancer types.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute, information for patients on understanding cancer
CancerQuest, information provided by Emory University about how cancer develops
Cancer Research UK, information for patients on cancer biology
Wikipedia pages on epigenetics (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The Epigenome Network of Excellence, background information and latest news about epigenetics
PMCID: PMC1716188  PMID: 17194187
3.  Genome-Wide Profiling of DNA Methylation Reveals a Class of Normally Methylated CpG Island Promoters 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(10):e181.
The role of CpG island methylation in normal development and cell differentiation is of keen interest, but remains poorly understood. We performed comprehensive DNA methylation profiling of promoter regions in normal peripheral blood by methylated CpG island amplification in combination with microarrays. This technique allowed us to simultaneously determine the methylation status of 6,177 genes, 92% of which include dense CpG islands. Among these 5,549 autosomal genes with dense CpG island promoters, we have identified 4.0% genes that are nearly completely methylated in normal blood, providing another exception to the general rule that CpG island methylation in normal tissue is limited to X inactivation and imprinted genes. We examined seven genes in detail, including ANKRD30A, FLJ40201, INSL6, SOHLH2, FTMT, C12orf12, and DPPA5. Dense promoter CpG island methylation and gene silencing were found in normal tissues studied except testis and sperm. In both tissues, bisulfite cloning and sequencing identified cells carrying unmethylated alleles. Interestingly, hypomethylation of several genes was associated with gene activation in cancer. Furthermore, reactivation of silenced genes could be induced after treatment with a DNA demethylating agent or in a cell line lacking DNMT1 and/or DNMT3b. Sequence analysis identified five motifs significantly enriched in this class of genes, suggesting that cis-regulatory elements may facilitate preferential methylation at these promoter CpG islands. We have identified a group of non-X–linked bona fide promoter CpG islands that are densely methylated in normal somatic tissues, escape methylation in germline cells, and for which DNA methylation is a primary mechanism of tissue-specific gene silencing.
Author Summary
About half of all human genes contain a CpG-rich region called a “CpG island” in the 5′ area, often encompassing the promoter and transcription start site of the associated gene. DNA methylation was initially suggested to control tissue-specific gene expression in mammalian cells, but most promoter region CpG islands were found to be unmethylated regardless of tissue specificity of expression. In this study, we discovered an exceptional subset of autosomal genes associated with dense promoter CpG islands that is methylated in normal tissues. We observed tissue-specific gene silencing correlated with hypermethylation in this class of genes, and provided evidence for a direct role of methylation in maintaining the silencing state. Furthermore, we identified five sequence motifs significantly enriched in this class of genes, suggesting the influence of cis-regulatory elements on the establishment and/or stability of DNA methylation. Together, these results provide important new insights into the role of CpG island methylation in normal development and differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2041996  PMID: 17967063
4.  Methylation screening of the TGFBI promoter in human lung and prostate cancer by methylation-specific PCR 
BMC Cancer  2008;8:284.
Hypermethylation of the TGFBI promoter has been shown to correlate with decreased expression of this gene in human tumor cell lines. In this study, we optimized a methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction (MSP) method and investigated the methylation status of the TGFBI promoter in human lung and prostate cancer specimens.
Methylation-specific primers were designed based on the methylation profiles of the TGFBI promoter in human tumor cell lines, and MSP conditions were optimized for accurate and efficient amplification. Genomic DNA was isolated from lung tumors and prostatectomy tissues of prostate cancer patients, bisulfite-converted, and analyzed by MSP.
Among 50 lung cancer samples, 44.0% (22/50) harbored methylated CpG sites in the TGFBI promoter. An analysis correlating gene methylation status with clinicopathological cancer features revealed that dense methylation of the TGFBI promoter was associated with a metastatic phenotype, with 42.9% (6/14) of metastatic lung cancer samples demonstrating dense methylation vs. only 5.6% (2/36) of primary lung cancer samples (p < 0.05). Similar to these lung cancer results, 82.0% (41/50) of prostate cancer samples harbored methylated CpG sites in the TGFBI promoter, and dense methylation of the promoter was present in 38.9% (7/18) of prostate cancer samples with the feature of locoregional invasiveness vs. only 19.4% (6/31) of prostate cancer samples without locoregional invasiveness (p < 0.05). Furthermore, promoter hypermethylation correlated with highly reduced expression of the TGFBI gene in human lung and prostate tumor cell lines.
We successfully optimized a MSP method for the precise and efficient screening of TGFBI promoter methylation status. Dense methylation of the TGFBI promoter correlated with the extent of TGFBI gene silencing in tumor cell lines and was related to invasiveness of prostate tumors and metastatic status of lung cancer tumors. Thus, TGFBI promoter methylation can be used as a potential prognostic marker for invasiveness and metastasis in prostate and lung cancer patients, respectively.
PMCID: PMC2572632  PMID: 18834524
5.  DNA methylation subgroups and the CpG island methylator phenotype in gastric cancer: a comprehensive profiling approach 
BMC Gastroenterology  2014;14:55.
Methylation-induced silencing of promoter CpG islands in tumor suppressor genes plays an important role in human carcinogenesis. In colorectal cancer, the CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) is defined as widespread and elevated levels of DNA methylation and CIMP+ tumors have distinctive clinicopathological and molecular features. In contrast, the existence of a comparable CIMP subtype in gastric cancer (GC) has not been clearly established. To further investigate this issue, in the present study we performed comprehensive DNA methylation profiling of a well-characterised series of primary GC.
The methylation status of 1,421 autosomal CpG sites located within 768 cancer-related genes was investigated using the Illumina GoldenGate Methylation Panel I assay on DNA extracted from 60 gastric tumors and matched tumor-adjacent gastric tissue pairs. Methylation data was analysed using a recursively partitioned mixture model and investigated for associations with clinicopathological and molecular features including age, Helicobacter pylori status, tumor site, patient survival, microsatellite instability and BRAF and KRAS mutations.
A total of 147 genes were differentially methylated between tumor and matched tumor-adjacent gastric tissue, with HOXA5 and hedgehog signalling being the top-ranked gene and signalling pathway, respectively. Unsupervised clustering of methylation data revealed the existence of 6 subgroups under two main clusters, referred to as L (low methylation; 28% of cases) and H (high methylation; 72%). Female patients were over-represented in the H tumor group compared to L group (36% vs 6%; P = 0.024), however no other significant differences in clinicopathological or molecular features were apparent. CpG sites that were hypermethylated in group H were more frequently located in CpG islands and marked for polycomb occupancy.
High-throughput methylation analysis implicates genes involved in embryonic development and hedgehog signaling in gastric tumorigenesis. GC is comprised of two major methylation subtypes, with the highly methylated group showing some features consistent with a CpG island methylator phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3986689  PMID: 24674026
Methylation; Gastric cancer; Microarray; CIMP; GoldenGate
6.  Progressive Region-Specific De Novo Methylation of the p16 CpG Island in Primary Human Mammary Epithelial Cell Strains during Escape from M0 Growth Arrest 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1999;19(8):5642-5651.
CpG island methylation plays an important role in normal cellular processes, such as genomic imprinting and X-chromosome inactivation, as well as in abnormal processes, such as neoplasia. However, the dynamics of de novo CpG island methylation, during which a CpG island is converted from an unmethylated, active state to a densely methylated, inactive state, are largely unknown. It is unclear whether the development of de novo CpG island methylation is a progressive process, in which a subset of CpG sites are initially methylated with a subsequent increase in methylation density, or a single event, in which the initial methylation event encompasses the entire CpG island. The tumor suppressor gene p16/CDKN2a/INK4a (p16) is inactivated by CpG island methylation during neoplastic progression in a variety of human cancers. We investigated the development of methylation in the p16 CpG island in primary human mammary epithelial cell strains during escape from mortality stage 0 (M0) growth arrest. The methylation status of 47 CpG sites in the p16 CpG island on individual DNA molecules was determined by sequencing PCR clones of bisulfite-treated genomic DNA. The p16 CpG island was initially methylated at a subset of sites in three discrete regions in association with p16 transcriptional repression and escape from M0 growth arrest. With continued passage, methylation gradually increased in density and methylation expanded to sites in adjacent regions. Thus, de novo methylation in the p16 CpG island is a progressive process that is neither site specific nor completely random but instead is region specific. Our results suggest that early detection of methylation in the CpG island of the p16 gene will require methylation analysis of the three regions and that the identification of region-specific methylation patterns in other genes may be essential for an accurate assessment of methylation-mediated transcriptional silencing.
PMCID: PMC84416  PMID: 10409753
7.  Techniques used in studies of epigenome dysregulation due to aberrant DNA methylation: an emphasis on fetal-based adult diseases 
Epigenetic changes are heritable modifications that do not involve alterations in the primary DNA sequence. They regulate crucial cellular functions such as genome stability, X-chromosome inactivation, and gene imprinting. Epidemiological and experimental observations now suggest that such changes may also explain the fetal basis of adult diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, neurological diseases, and behavioral modifications. The main molecular events known to initiate and sustain epigenetic modifications are histone modification and DNA methylation. This review specifically focuses on existing and emerging technologies used in studying DNA methylation, which occurs primarily at CpG dinucleotides in the genome. These include standard exploratory tools used for global profiling of DNA methylation and targeted gene investigation: methylation sensitive restriction fingerprinting (MSRF), restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS), methylation CpG island amplification-representational difference analysis (MCA-RDA), differential methylation hybridization (DMH), and cDNA microarrays combined with treatment with demethylating agents and inhibitors of histone deacetylase. The basic operating principals, resource requirements, applications, and benefits and limitations of each methodology are discussed. Validation methodologies and functional assays needed to establish the role of a CpG-rich sequence in regulating the expression of a target or candidate gene are outlined. These include in silico database searches, methylation status studies (bisulfite genomic sequencing, COBRA, MS-PCR, MS-SSCP), gene expression studies, and promoter activity analyses. Our intention is to give readers a starting point for choosing methodologies and to suggest a workflow to follow during their investigations. We believe studies of epigenetic changes such as DNA methylation hold great promise in understanding the early origins of adult diseases and in advancing their diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
PMCID: PMC2055548  PMID: 17317097
Cytosine methylation; chromatin remodeling; fetal based adult disease; epigenetics; genome-wide methylation profiling; methylation sensitive restriction fingerprinting; restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS)
8.  Convergence of Mutation and Epigenetic Alterations Identifies Common Genes in Cancer That Predict for Poor Prognosis  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e114.
The identification and characterization of tumor suppressor genes has enhanced our understanding of the biology of cancer and enabled the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. Whereas in past decades, a handful of tumor suppressors have been slowly identified using techniques such as linkage analysis, large-scale sequencing of the cancer genome has enabled the rapid identification of a large number of genes that are mutated in cancer. However, determining which of these many genes play key roles in cancer development has proven challenging. Specifically, recent sequencing of human breast and colon cancers has revealed a large number of somatic gene mutations, but virtually all are heterozygous, occur at low frequency, and are tumor-type specific. We hypothesize that key tumor suppressor genes in cancer may be subject to mutation or hypermethylation.
Methods and Findings
Here, we show that combined genetic and epigenetic analysis of these genes reveals many with a higher putative tumor suppressor status than would otherwise be appreciated. At least 36 of the 189 genes newly recognized to be mutated are targets of promoter CpG island hypermethylation, often in both colon and breast cancer cell lines. Analyses of primary tumors show that 18 of these genes are hypermethylated strictly in primary cancers and often with an incidence that is much higher than for the mutations and which is not restricted to a single tumor-type. In the identical breast cancer cell lines in which the mutations were identified, hypermethylation is usually, but not always, mutually exclusive from genetic changes for a given tumor, and there is a high incidence of concomitant loss of expression. Sixteen out of 18 (89%) of these genes map to loci deleted in human cancers. Lastly, and most importantly, the reduced expression of a subset of these genes strongly correlates with poor clinical outcome.
Using an unbiased genome-wide approach, our analysis has enabled the discovery of a number of clinically significant genes targeted by multiple modes of inactivation in breast and colon cancer. Importantly, we demonstrate that a subset of these genes predict strongly for poor clinical outcome. Our data define a set of genes that are targeted by both genetic and epigenetic events, predict for clinical prognosis, and are likely fundamentally important for cancer initiation or progression.
Stephen Baylin and colleagues show that a combined genetic and epigenetic analysis of breast and colon cancers identifies a number of clinically significant genes targeted by multiple modes of inactivation.
Editors' Summary
Cancer is one of the developed world's biggest killers—over half a million Americans die of cancer each year, for instance. As a result, there is great interest in understanding the genetic and environmental causes of cancer in order to improve cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
Cancer begins when cells begin to multiply out of control. DNA is the sequence of coded instructions—genes—for how to build and maintain the body. Certain “tumor suppressor” genes, for instance, help to prevent cancer by preventing tumors from developing, but changes that alter the DNA code sequence—mutations—can profoundly affect how a gene works. Modern techniques of genetic analysis have identified genes such as tumor suppressors that, when mutated, are linked to the development of certain cancers.
Why Was This Study Done?
However, in recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that mutations are neither necessary nor sufficient to explain every case of cancer. This has led researchers to look at so-called epigenetic factors, which also alter how a gene works without altering its DNA sequence. An example of this is “methylation,” which prevents a gene from being expressed—deactivates it—by a chemical tag. Methylation of genes is part of the normal functioning of DNA, but abnormal methylation has been linked with cancer, aging, and some rare birth abnormalities.
Previous analysis of DNA from breast and colon cancer cells had revealed 189 “candidate cancer genes”—mutated genes that were linked to the development of breast and colon cancer. However, it was not clear how those mutations gave rise to cancer, and individual mutations were present in only 5% to 15% of specific tumors. The authors of this study wanted to know whether epigenetic factors such as methylation contributed to causing the cancers.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first identified 56 of the 189 candidate cancer genes as likely tumor suppressors and then determined that 36 of these genes were methylated and deactivated, often in both breast and colon (laboratory-grown) cancer cells. In nearly all cases, the methylated genes were not active but could be reactivated by being demethylated. They further showed that, in normal colon and breast tissue samples, 18 of the 36 genes were unmethylated and functioned normally, but in cells taken from breast and colon cancer tumors they were methylated.
In contrast to the genetic mutations, the 18 genes were frequently methylated across a range of tumor types, and eight genes were methylated in both the breast and colon cancers. The authors found by reviewing the genetics and epigenetics of those 18 genes in breast and colon cancer that they were either mutated, methylated, or both. A literature review showed that at least six of the 18 genes were known to have tumor suppressor properties, and the authors determined that 16 were located in parts of DNA known to be missing from cells taken from a range of cancer tumors.
Finally, the researchers analyzed data on cancer cases to show that methylation of these 18 genes was correlated with reduced function of these genes in tumors and with a greater likelihood that a cancer will be terminal or spread to other parts of the body.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers considered only the 189 candidate cancer genes found in one previous study and not other genes identified elsewhere. They also did not consider the biological effects of the individual mutations found in those genes. Despite this, they have demonstrated that methylation of specific genes is likely to play a role in the development of breast and/or colon cancer cells either together with mutations or independently, most likely by turning off their tumor suppression function.
More broadly, however, the study adds to the evidence that future analysis of the role of genes in cancer should include epigenetic as well as genetic factors. In addition, the authors have also shown that a number of these genes may be useful for predicting clinical outcomes for a range of tumor types.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A December 2006 PLoS Medicine Perspective article reviews the value of examining methylation as a factor in common cancers and its use for early detection
The Web site of the American Cancer Society has a wealth of information and resources on a variety of cancers, including breast and colon cancer is a nonprofit organization providing information about breast cancer on the Web, including research news
Cancer Research UK provides information on cancer research
The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins publishes background information on the authors' research on methylation, setting out its potential for earlier diagnosis and better treatment of cancer
PMCID: PMC2429944  PMID: 18507500
9.  Differential Epigenetic Regulation of TOX Subfamily High Mobility Group Box Genes in Lung and Breast Cancers 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e34850.
Aberrant cytosine methylation affects regulation of hundreds of genes during cancer development. In this study, a novel aberrantly hypermethylated CpG island in cancer was discovered within the TOX2 promoter. TOX2 was unmethylated in normal cells but 28% lung (n = 190) and 23% breast (n = 80) tumors were methylated. Expression of two novel TOX2 transcripts identified was significantly reduced in primary lung tumors than distant normal lung (p<0.05). These transcripts were silenced in methylated lung and breast cancer cells and 5-Aza-2-deoxycytidine treatment re-expressed both. Extension of these assays to TOX, TOX3, and TOX4 genes that share similar genomic structure and protein homology with TOX2 revealed distinct methylation profiles by smoking status, histology, and cancer type. TOX was almost exclusively methylated in breast (43%) than lung (5%) cancer, whereas TOX3 was frequently methylated in lung (58%) than breast (30%) tumors. TOX4 was unmethylated in all samples and showed the highest expression in normal lung. Compared to TOX4, expression of TOX, TOX2 and TOX3 in normal lung was 25, 44, and 88% lower, respectively, supporting the premise that reduced promoter activity confers increased susceptibility to methylation during lung carcinogenesis. Genome-wide assays revealed that siRNA-mediated TOX2 knockdown modulated multiple pathways while TOX3 inactivation targeted neuronal development and function. Although these knockdowns did not result in further phenotypic changes of lung cancer cells in vitro, the impact on tissue remodeling, inflammatory response, and cell differentiation pathways suggest a potential role for TOX2 in modulating tumor microenvironment.
PMCID: PMC3319602  PMID: 22496870
10.  Restriction Landmark Genomic Scanning (RLGS) spot identification by second generation virtual RLGS in multiple genomes with multiple enzyme combinations 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:446.
Restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS) is one of the most successfully applied methods for the identification of aberrant CpG island hypermethylation in cancer, as well as the identification of tissue specific methylation of CpG islands. However, a limitation to the utility of this method has been the ability to assign specific genomic sequences to RLGS spots, a process commonly referred to as "RLGS spot cloning."
We report the development of a virtual RLGS method (vRLGS) that allows for RLGS spot identification in any sequenced genome and with any enzyme combination. We report significant improvements in predicting DNA fragment migration patterns by incorporating sequence information into the migration models, and demonstrate a median Euclidian distance between actual and predicted spot migration of 0.18 centimeters for the most complex human RLGS pattern. We report the confirmed identification of 795 human and 530 mouse RLGS spots for the most commonly used enzyme combinations. We also developed a method to filter the virtual spots to reduce the number of extra spots seen on a virtual profile for both the mouse and human genomes. We demonstrate use of this filter to simplify spot cloning and to assist in the identification of spots exhibiting tissue-specific methylation.
The new vRLGS system reported here is highly robust for the identification of novel RLGS spots. The migration models developed are not specific to the genome being studied or the enzyme combination being used, making this tool broadly applicable. The identification of hundreds of mouse and human RLGS spot loci confirms the strong bias of RLGS studies to focus on CpG islands and provides a valuable resource to rapidly study their methylation.
PMCID: PMC2235865  PMID: 18053125
11.  Diverse histone modifications on histone 3 lysine 9 and their relation to DNA methylation in specifying gene silencing 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:131.
Previous studies of individual genes have shown that in a self-enforcing way, dimethylation at histone 3 lysine 9 (dimethyl-H3K9) and DNA methylation cooperate to maintain a repressive mode of inactive genes. Less clear is whether this cooperation is generalized in mammalian genomes, such as mouse genome. Here we use epigenomic tools to simultaneously interrogate chromatin modifications and DNA methylation in a mouse leukemia cell line, L1210.
Histone modifications on H3K9 and DNA methylation in L1210 were profiled by both global CpG island array and custom mouse promoter array analysis. We used chromatin immunoprecipitation microarray (ChIP-chip) to examine acetyl-H3K9 and dimethyl-H3K9. We found that the relative level of acetyl-H3K9 at different chromatin positions has a wider range of distribution than that of dimethyl-H3K9. We then used differential methylation hybridization (DMH) and the restriction landmark genome scanning (RLGS) to analyze the DNA methylation status of the same targets investigated by ChIP-chip. The results of epigenomic profiling, which have been independently confirmed for individual loci, show an inverse relationship between DNA methylation and histone acetylation in regulating gene silencing. In contrast to the previous notion, dimethyl-H3K9 seems to be less distinct in specifying silencing for the genes tested.
This study demonstrates in L1210 leukemia cells a diverse relationship between histone modifications and DNA methylation in the maintenance of gene silencing. Acetyl-H3K9 shows an inverse relationship between DNA methylation and histone acetylation in regulating gene silencing as expected. However, dimethyl-H3K9 seems to be less distinct in relation to promoter methylation. Meanwhile, a combination of epigenomic tools is of help in understanding the heterogeneity of epigenetic regulation, which may further our vision accumulated from single-gene studies.
PMCID: PMC1888705  PMID: 17524140
12.  Gene silencing of SLC5A8 identified by genome-wide methylation profiling in lung cancer 
Aberrant DNA hypermethylation has been implicated as a component of an epigenetic mechanism that silences genes in cancers.
We performed a genome-wide search to identify differentially methylated loci between 26 tumor and adjacent non-tumor paired tissues from same lung cancer patients using restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS) analysis. Among 229 loci which were hypermethylated in lung tumors as compared to adjacent non-tumor tissues, solute carrier family 5, member 8 (SLC5A8) was one of the hypermethylated genes, and known as a tumor suppressor gene which is silenced by epigenetic changes in various tumors. We investigated the significance of DNA methylation in SLC5A8 expression in lung cancer cell lines, and 23 paired tumor and adjacent non-tumor lung tissues by reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR), quantitative methylation specific PCR (QMSP) and bisulfite modified DNA sequencing analyses.
Reduced or lost expression of SLC5A8 was observed in 39.1% (9/23) of the tumor tissues as compared with paired adjacent non-tumor tissues. Bisulfite sequencing results of lung cancer cell lines and tissues which did not express SLC5A8 showed a densely methylated promoter region of SLC5A8. SLC5A8 was reactivated by treatment with DNA methyltransferase inhibitor, 5-Aza and/or HDAC inhibitor, trichostatin A (TSA) in lung cancer cell lines, which did not express SLC5A8. Hypermethylation was detected at the promoter region of SLC5A8 in primary lung tumor tissues as compared with adjacent non-tumor tissues (14/23, 60.9%).
These results suggest that DNA methylation in the SLC5A8 promoter region may suppress the expression of SLC5A8 in lung tumor.
PMCID: PMC3566332  PMID: 23273563
Lung cancer; Gene silencing; SLC5A8; Tumor suppressor gene; DNA methylation; Restriction landmark genomic scanning
13.  CpG Island Methylation in a Mouse Model of Lymphoma Is Driven by the Genetic Configuration of Tumor Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(9):e167.
Hypermethylation of CpG islands is a common epigenetic alteration associated with cancer. Global patterns of hypermethylation are tumor-type specific and nonrandom. The biological significance and the underlying mechanisms of tumor-specific aberrant promoter methylation remain unclear, but some evidence suggests that this specificity involves differential sequence susceptibilities, the targeting of DNA methylation activity to specific promoter sequences, or the selection of rare DNA methylation events during disease progression. Using restriction landmark genomic scanning on samples derived from tissue culture and in vivo models of T cell lymphomas, we found that MYC overexpression gave rise to a specific signature of CpG island hypermethylation. This signature reflected gene transcription profiles and was detected only in advanced stages of disease. The further inactivation of the Pten, p53, and E2f2 tumor suppressors in MYC-induced lymphomas resulted in distinct and diagnostic CpG island methylation signatures. Our data suggest that tumor-specific DNA methylation in lymphomas arises as a result of the selection of rare DNA methylation events during the course of tumor development. This selection appears to be driven by the genetic configuration of tumor cells, providing experimental evidence for a causal role of DNA hypermethylation in tumor progression and an explanation for the tremendous epigenetic heterogeneity observed in the evolution of human cancers. The ability to predict genome-wide epigenetic silencing based on relatively few genetic alterations will allow for a more complete classification of tumors and understanding of tumor cell biology.
Author Summary
Genetic and epigenetic alterations of the genome are common features of cancers. The relationship between these two types of alterations, however, remains unclear. One type of epigenetic modification—DNA methylation in promoter sequences of genes—is of particular interest, since tumor cells have different patterns of promoter methylation than normal cells. Previous studies on human tumor samples have suggested a link between genetic alterations and the induction of aberrant DNA methylation; however, this link has been difficult to rigorously assess because of the incredible genetic heterogeneity found in human cancer. In this study, a mouse model of T cell lymphoma was used to explore the relationship between genetic and epigenetic modifications experienced by tumor cells. By introducing defined genetic changes into preneoplastic T cells of mice, such as the overexpression of the MYC oncogene and the ablation of tumor suppressor genes, we could carefully evaluate how these genetic changes impacted promoter methylation profiles during development of lymphomas in vivo. We found that the introduction of different genetic insults resulted in unique and diagnostic profiles of promoter methylation. Understanding how these methylation signatures contribute to tumor progression could eventually have diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic value for human cancers.
PMCID: PMC1994712  PMID: 17907813
14.  AKAP12α is Associated with Promoter Methylation in Lung Cancer 
Promoter methylation is an important mechanism for silencing tumor-suppressor genes in cancer and it is a promising tool for the development of molecular biomarkers. The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether inactivation of the A Kinase Anchoring Protein 12 (AKAP12) gene is assoCiated with promoter methylation in lung cancer.
Materials and Methods
The AKAP12 expression was examined by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in ten lung cancer cell lines. The methylation status of the AKAP12α promoter was analyzed by performing bisulfite sequencing analysis in ten lung cancer cell lines, twenty four lung tissues and matched normal tissues.
The AKAP12α expression was reduced in 6 of 10 (60%) lung cancer cell lines, whereas the AKAP12β expression was absent in 1 of 10 (10%) lung cancer cell lines. The AKAP12α expression was restored after treatment with the demethylating agent 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine in three lung cancer cell lines. Methylation of CpG island 1 in the AKAP12α promoter was detected in 30% of the lung cancer cell lines, whereas methylation of CpG island 2 in the AKAP12α promoter was observed in the immortalized bronchial cell line and in all the lung cancer cell lines. In lung tumors, the CpG island 1 in the AKAP12α promoter was infrequently methylated. However, CpG island 2 in the AKAP12α promoter was highly methylated in lung tumors compared with the surrounding normal tissues, and this was statistically significant (p=0.0001).
Our results suggest that inactivation of the AKAP12α expression is assoCiated with DNA methylation of the promoter region in lung cancer, and that AKAP12α may play an important role in lung cancer carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2741672  PMID: 19771275
Promoter methylation; Lung neoplasms; AKAP12α
15.  Differential DNA methylation profiles in gynecological cancers and correlation with clinico-pathological data 
BMC Cancer  2006;6:212.
Epigenetic gene silencing is one of the major causes of carcinogenesis. Its widespread occurrence in cancer genome could inactivate many cellular pathways including DNA repair, cell cycle control, apoptosis, cell adherence, and detoxification. The abnormal promoter methylation might be a potential molecular marker for cancer management.
For rapid identification of potential targets for aberrant methylation in gynecological cancers, methylation status of the CpG islands of 34 genes was determined using pooled DNA approach and methylation-specific PCR. Pooled DNA mixture from each cancer type (50 cervical cancers, 50 endometrial cancers and 50 ovarian cancers) was made to form three test samples. The corresponding normal DNA from the patients of each cancer type was also pooled to form the other three control samples. Methylated alleles detected in tumors, but not in normal controls, were indicative of aberrant methylation in tumors. Having identified potential markers, frequencies of methylation were further analyzed in individual samples. Markers identified are used to correlate with clinico-pathological data of tumors using χ2 or Fisher's exact test.
APC and p16 were hypermethylated across the three cancers. MINT31 and PTEN were hypermethylated in cervical and ovarian cancers. Specific methylation was found in cervical cancer (including CDH1, DAPK, MGMT and MINT2), endometrial cancer (CASP8, CDH13, hMLH1 and p73), and ovarian cancer (BRCA1, p14, p15, RIZ1 and TMS1). The frequencies of occurrence of hypermethylation in 4 candidate genes in individual samples of each cancer type (DAPK, MGMT, p16 and PTEN in 127 cervical cancers; APC, CDH13, hMLH1 and p16 in 60 endometrial cancers; and BRCA1, p14, p16 and PTEN in 49 ovarian cancers) were examined for further confirmation. Incidence varied among different genes and in different cancer types ranging from the lowest 8.2% (PTEN in ovarian cancer) to the highest 56.7% (DAPK in cervical cancer). Aberrant methylation for some genes (BRCA1, DAPK, hMLH1, MGMT, p14, p16, and PTEN) was also associated with clinico-pathological data.
Thus, differential methylation profiles occur in the three types of gynecologic cancer. Detection of methylation for critical loci is potentially useful as epigenetic markers in tumor classification. More studies using a much larger sample size are needed to define the potential role of DNA methylation as marker for cancer management.
PMCID: PMC1560388  PMID: 16928264
16.  DNA Methylation Analysis of Chromosome 21 Gene Promoters at Single Base Pair and Single Allele Resolution 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(3):e1000438.
Differential DNA methylation is an essential epigenetic signal for gene regulation, development, and disease processes. We mapped DNA methylation patterns of 190 gene promoter regions on chromosome 21 using bisulfite conversion and subclone sequencing in five human cell types. A total of 28,626 subclones were sequenced at high accuracy using (long-read) Sanger sequencing resulting in the measurement of the DNA methylation state of 580427 CpG sites. Our results show that average DNA methylation levels are distributed bimodally with enrichment of highly methylated and unmethylated sequences, both for amplicons and individual subclones, which represent single alleles from individual cells. Within CpG-rich sequences, DNA methylation was found to be anti-correlated with CpG dinucleotide density and GC content, and methylated CpGs are more likely to be flanked by AT-rich sequences. We observed over-representation of CpG sites in distances of 9, 18, and 27 bps in highly methylated amplicons. However, DNA sequence alone is not sufficient to predict an amplicon's DNA methylation status, since 43% of all amplicons are differentially methylated between the cell types studied here. DNA methylation in promoter regions is strongly correlated with the absence of gene expression and low levels of activating epigenetic marks like H3K4 methylation and H3K9 and K14 acetylation. Utilizing the single base pair and single allele resolution of our data, we found that i) amplicons from different parts of a CpG island frequently differ in their DNA methylation level, ii) methylation levels of individual cells in one tissue are very similar, and iii) methylation patterns follow a relaxed site-specific distribution. Furthermore, iv) we identified three cases of allele-specific DNA methylation on chromosome 21. Our data shed new light on the nature of methylation patterns in human cells, the sequence dependence of DNA methylation, and its function as epigenetic signal in gene regulation. Further, we illustrate genotype–epigenotype interactions by showing novel examples of allele-specific methylation.
Author Summary
Epigenetics is defined as the inheritance of changes in gene function without changing the DNA sequence. Epigenetic signals comprise methylation of cytosine bases of the DNA and chemical modifications of the histone proteins. DNA methylation plays important roles in development and disease processes. To investigate the biological role of DNA methylation, we analyzed DNA methylation patterns of 190 gene promoter regions on chromosome 21 in five human cell types. Our results show that average DNA methylation levels are distributed bimodally with enrichment of highly methylated and unmethylated sequences, indicating that DNA methylation acts in a switch-like manner. Consistent with the well-established role of DNA methylation in gene silencing, we found DNA methylation in promoter regions strongly correlated with absence of gene expression and low levels of additional activating epigenetic marks. Although methylation levels of individual cells in one tissue are very similar, we observed differences in DNA methylation when comparing different cell types in 43% of all regions analyzed. This finding is in agreement with a role of DNA methylation in cellular development. We identified three cases of genes that are differentially methylated in both alleles that illustrate the tight interplay of genetic and epigenetic processes.
PMCID: PMC2653639  PMID: 19325872
17.  Suppression of the protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor type O gene (PTPRO) by methylation in hepatocellular carcinomas 
Oncogene  2003;22(41):6319-6331.
A diet lacking folic acid and choline and low in methionine (folate/methyl deficient diet, FMD diet) fed to rats is known to produce preneoplastic nodules (PNNs) after 36 weeks and hepatocellular carcinomas (tumors) after 54 weeks. FMD diet-induced tumors exhibit global hypomethylation and regional hypermethylation. Restriction landmark genome scanning analysis with methylation-sensitive enzyme NotI (RLGS-M) of genomic DNA isolated from control livers, PNNs and tumor tissues was performed to identify the genes that are differentially methylated or amplified during multistage hepatocarcinogenesis. Out of the 1250 genes analysed, 2 to 5 genes were methylated in the PNNs, whereas 5 to 45 genes were partially or completely methylated in the tumors. This analysis also showed amplification of 3 to 12 genes in the primary tumors. As a first step towards identifying the genes methylated in the PNNs and primary hepatomas, we generated a rat NotI–EcoRV genomic library in the pBluescriptKS vector. Here, we describe identification of one methylated and downregulated gene as the rat protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor type O (PTPRO) and one amplified gene as rat C-MYC. Methylation of PTPRO at the NotI site located immediate upstream of the trancription start site in the PNNs and tumors, and amplification of C-MYC gene in the tumors were confirmed by Southern blot analyses. Bisulfite genomic sequencing of the CpG island encompassing exon 1 of the PTPRO gene revealed dense methylation in the PNNs and tumors, whereas it was methylation free in the livers of animals on normal diet. Reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT–PCR) analysis showed significant decrease in the expression of PTPRO in the tumors and in a transplanted rat hepatoma. The expression of PTPRO mRNA in the transplanted hepatoma after demethylation with 5-azacytidine, a potent inhibitor of DNA methyltransferases, further confirmed the role of methylation in PTPRO gene expression. These results demonstrate alteration in methylation profile and expression of specific genes during tumor progression in the livers of rats in response to folate/methyl deficiency, and further implicate the potential role of PTPRO as a novel growth regulatory gene at least in the hepatocellular carcinomas.
PMCID: PMC3020652  PMID: 14508512
DNA methylation; DNA amplification; folate deficiency; hepatocellular carcinoma; PTPRO; 5-azacytidine
18.  Re-expression of methylation-induced tumor suppressor gene silencing is associated with the state of histone modification in gastric cancer cell lines 
AIM: To identify the relationship between DNA hyper-methylation and histone modification at a hyperme-thylated, silenced tumor suppressor gene promoter in human gastric cancer cell lines and to elucidate whether alteration of DNA methylation could affect histone modification.
METHODS: We used chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assay to assess the status of histone acetylation and methylation in promoter regions of the p16 and mutL homolog 1 (MLH1) genes in 2 gastric cancer cell lines, SGC-7901 and MGC-803. We used methylation-specific PCR (MSP) to evaluate the effect of 5-Aza-2’-deoxycytidine (5-Aza-dC), trichostatin A (TSA) or their combination treatment on DNA methylation status. We used RT-PCR to determine whether alterations of histone modification status after 5-Aza-dC and TSA treatment are reflected in gene expression.
RESULTS: For the p16 and MLH1 genes in two cell lines, silenced loci associated with DNA hypermethylation were characterized by histone H3-K9 hypoacetylation and hypermethylation and histone H3-K4 hypomethylation. Treatment with TSA resulted in moderately increased histone H3-K9 acetylation at the silenced loci with no effect on histone H3-K9 methylation and minimal effects on gene expression. In contrast, treatment with 5-Aza-dC rapidly reduced histone H3-K9 methylation at the silenced loci and resulted in reactivation of the two genes. Combined treatment with 5-Aza-dC and TSA was synergistic in reactivating gene expression at the loci showing DNA hypermethylation. Similarly, histone H3-K4 methylation was not affected after TSA treatment, and increased moderately at the silenced loci after 5-Aza-dC treatment.
CONCLUSION: Hypermethylation of DNA in promoter CpG islands is related to transcriptional silencing of tumor suppressor genes. Histone H3-K9 methylation in different regions of the promoters studied correlates with DNA methylation status of each gene in gastric cancer cells. However, histone H3-K9 acetylation and H3-K4 methylation inversely correlate with DNA methylation status of each gene in gastric cancer cells. Alteration of DNA methylation affects histone modification.
PMCID: PMC4171225  PMID: 18069755
Gastric cancer; DNA hypermethylation; Histone methylation; Histone acetylation; p16; mutL homolog 1; 5-Aza-2’-deoxycytidine; Trichostatin A
19.  Quality assessment of DNA derived from up to 30 years old formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue for PCR-based methylation analysis using SMART-MSP and MS-HRM 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:453.
The High Resolution Melting (HRM) technology has recently been introduced as a rapid and robust analysis tool for the detection of DNA methylation. The methylation status of multiple tumor suppressor genes may serve as biomarkers for early cancer diagnostics, for prediction of prognosis and for prediction of response to treatment. Therefore, it is important that methodologies for detection of DNA methylation continue to evolve. Sensitive Melting Analysis after Real Time - Methylation Specific PCR (SMART-MSP) and Methylation Sensitive - High Resolution Melting (MS-HRM) are two methods for single locus DNA methylation detection based on HRM.
Here, we have assessed the quality of DNA extracted from up to 30 years old Formalin Fixed Paraffin Embedded (FFPE) tissue for DNA methylation analysis using SMART-MSP and MS-HRM. The quality assessment was performed on DNA extracted from 54 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) samples derived from FFPE tissue, collected over 30 years and grouped into five years intervals. For each sample, the methylation levels of the CDKN2A (p16) and RARB promoters were estimated using SMART-MSP and MS-HRM assays designed to assess the methylation status of the same CpG positions. This allowed for a direct comparison of the methylation levels estimated by the two methods for each sample.
CDKN2A promoter methylation levels were successfully determined by SMART-MSP and MS-HRM in all 54 samples. Identical methylation estimates were obtained by the two methods in 46 of the samples. The methylation levels of the RARB promoter were successfully determined by SMART-MSP in all samples. When using MS-HRM to assess RARB methylation five samples failed to amplify and 15 samples showed a melting profile characteristic for heterogeneous methylation. Twenty-seven of the remaining 34 samples, for which the methylation level could be estimated, gave the same result as observed when using SMART-MSP.
MS-HRM and SMART-MSP can be successfully used for single locus methylation studies using DNA derived from up to 30 years old FFPE tissue. Furthermore, it can be expected that MS-HRM and SMART-MSP will provide similar methylation estimates when assays are designed to analyze the same CpG positions.
PMCID: PMC2804714  PMID: 20025721
20.  CpG Island Methylation in Human Lymphocytes Is Highly Correlated with DNA Sequence, Repeats, and Predicted DNA Structure  
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(3):e26.
CpG island methylation plays an important role in epigenetic gene control during mammalian development and is frequently altered in disease situations such as cancer. The majority of CpG islands is normally unmethylated, but a sizeable fraction is prone to become methylated in various cell types and pathological situations. The goal of this study is to show that a computational epigenetics approach can discriminate between CpG islands that are prone to methylation from those that remain unmethylated. We develop a bioinformatics scoring and prediction method on the basis of a set of 1,184 DNA attributes, which refer to sequence, repeats, predicted structure, CpG islands, genes, predicted binding sites, conservation, and single nucleotide polymorphisms. These attributes are scored on 132 CpG islands across the entire human Chromosome 21, whose methylation status was previously established for normal human lymphocytes. Our results show that three groups of DNA attributes, namely certain sequence patterns, specific DNA repeats, and a particular DNA structure, are each highly correlated with CpG island methylation (correlation coefficients of 0.64, 0.66, and 0.49, respectively). We predicted, and subsequently experimentally examined 12 CpG islands from human Chromosome 21 with unknown methylation patterns and found more than 90% of our predictions to be correct. In addition, we applied our prediction method to analyzing Human Epigenome Project methylation data on human Chromosome 6 and again observed high prediction accuracy. In summary, our results suggest that DNA composition of CpG islands (sequence, repeats, and structure) plays a significant role in predisposing CpG islands for DNA methylation. This finding may have a strong impact on our understanding of changes in CpG island methylation in development and disease.
DNA methylation is the only epigenetic mechanism in eukaryotes that is known to directly modify the DNA. It plays an important role for gene control during development and cell differentiation, and it is a promising therapeutic target in cancer research. While a genome-wide picture of DNA methylation patterns is currently emerging, we have only fragmentary knowledge about the linkage between DNA methylation and other genomic attributes such as DNA sequence and structure, repetitive elements, or sequence conservation. The authors fill this gap by reporting on a comprehensive bioinformatical analysis of DNA methylation on human Chromosome 21—and in part, extending to other regions of the human genome. They report new associations that will help elucidate the functions of DNA methylation along the human genome. Furthermore, the authors show that their findings can be applied to predicting DNA methylation patterns from genome sequence. Such predictions have the potential of speeding up genome-wide epigenetic profiling: It may be possible to focus experimental resources on a few selected areas while bioinformatics procedures are applied to the bulk of the genome.
PMCID: PMC1386721  PMID: 16520826
21.  LINE-1 Hypomethylation in a Choline-Deficiency-Induced Liver Cancer in Rats: Dependence on Feeding Period 
Chronic feeding of methyl-donor (methionine, choline, folic acid, and vitamin B12) deficient diet induces hepatocellular carcinoma formation in rats. Previous studies have shown that promoter CpG islands in various cancer-related genes are aberrantly methylated in this model. Moreover, the global genome in methyl-donor-deficient diet fed rats contains a lesser amount of 5-methylcytosine than control livers. It is speculated that more than 90% of all 5-methylcytosines lie within the CpG islands of the transposons, including the long/short interspersed nucleotide elements (LINE and SINE). It is considered that the 5-methylcytosines in LINE-1 limit the ability of retrotransposons to be activated and transcribed; therefore, the extent of hypomethylation of LINE-1 could be a surrogate marker for aberrant methylation in other tumor-related genes as well as genome instability. Additionally, LINE-1 methylation status has been shown to be a good indicator of genome-wide methylation. In this study, we determined cytosine methylation status in the LINE-1 repetitive sequences of rats fed a choline-deficient (CD) diet for various durations and compared these with rats fed a choline-sufficient (CS) diet. The methylation status of LINE-1 was assessed by the combined bisulfite restriction analysis (COBRA) method, where the amount of bisulfite-modified and RsaI-cleaved DNA was quantified using gel electrophoresis. Progressive hypomethylation was observed in LINE-1 of CD livers as a function of feeding time; that is, the amount of cytosine in total cytosine (methylated and unmethylated) increased from 11.1% (1 week) to 19.3% (56 weeks), whereas in the control CS livers, it increased from 9.2% to 12.9%. Hypomethylation in tumor tissues was slightly higher (6%) than the nontumorous surrounding tissue. The present result also indicates that age is a factor influencing the extent of cytosine methylation.
PMCID: PMC1479888  PMID: 16877811
22.  Identification of Hypermethylation in Hepatocyte Cell Adhesion Molecule Gene Promoter Region in Bladder Carcinoma 
Background: Epigenetic regulation such as aberrant hypermethylation of CpG islands in promoter plays a key role in tumorigenesis. 5-Aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-aza-CdR) which is a potent inhibitor of DNA methylation can reverse the abnormal hypermethylation of the silenced tumor suppressor genes (TSGs). It has been reported that hepatocyte cell adhesion molecule (hepaCAM) acts as a tumor suppressor gene and expression of its mRNA and protein were down-regulated in bladder cancer. Over-expression of hepaCAM can inhibit cancer growth and arrest renal cancer cells at G0/G1 phase. In this study, we investigated the methylation status of hepaCAM gene, as well as the influence of 5-aza-CdR on expression of hepaCAM gene in bladder cancer cells. Methods: CpG islands in hepaCAM promoter and methprimers were predicted and designed using bioinformatics program. Methylation status of hepaCAM promoter was evaluated in bladder cancer tissues and two cell lines (T24 and BIU-87) by Methylation-specific PCR; Western blot and Immunofluorescence were used to detect expression of hepaCAM protein after 5-aza-CdR treatment; Flow cytometry assay was performed to determine effectiveness of 5-aza-CdR on cell cycle profile. Results: CpG island in promoter of hepaCAM gene was hyper-methylated both in bladder carcinoma tissues and cell lines (T24 and BIU-87). Otherwise, aberrant methylation of its promoter was associated with its decreased expression. Hypermethylation of hepaCAM gene was reversed and expression of its mRNA and protein were re-activated in two cell lines by DNA methyltransferases inhibitor 5-aza-CdR. Flow cytometry assay demonstrated that 5-aza-CdR can inhibit growth of cancer cells by arresting cancer cells at G0/G1 phase. Conclusion: Abnormal hypermethylation in CpG island of hepaCAM promoter is involved in absence of hepaCAM gene expression when bladder cancer occurs. Re-activation of hepaCAM gene by 5-aza-CdR can inhibit growth of cancer cells and arrest cells at G0/G1 phase.
PMCID: PMC3856376  PMID: 24324362
hepaCAM; promoter; methylation; 5-aza-CdR; Bladder carcinoma.
23.  Epigenetic Silencing of ALDH1L1, a Metabolic Regulator of Cellular Proliferation, in Cancers 
Genes & Cancer  2011;2(2):130-139.
FDH (10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase, the product of the ALDH1L1 gene), a major folate-metabolizing enzyme in the cytosol, is involved in the regulation of cellular proliferation. We have previously demonstrated that FDH is strongly and ubiquitously down-regulated in malignant human tumors and cancer cell lines. Here, we report that promoter methylation is a major mechanism controlling FDH levels in human cancers. A computational analysis has identified an extensive CpG island in the ALDH1L1 promoter region. It contains 96 CpG pairs and covers the region between −525 and +918 bp of the ALDH1L1 gene including the promoter, the entire exon 1, and a part of intron 1 immediately downstream of the exon. Bisulfite sequencing analysis revealed extensive methylation of the island (76%-95% of CpGs) in cancer cell lines. In agreement with these findings, treatment of FDH-deficient A549 cells with the methyltransferase inhibitor 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine restored FDH expression. Analysis of the samples from patients with lung adenocarcinomas demonstrated methylation of the ALDH1L1 CpG island in tumor samples and a total lack of methylation in respective normal tissues. The same phenomenon was observed in liver tissues: the CpG island was methylation free in DNA extracted from normal hepatocytes but was extensively methylated in a hepatocellular carcinoma. Levels of ALDH1L1 mRNA and protein correlated with the methylation status of the island, with tumor samples demonstrating down-regulation of expression or even complete silencing of the gene. Our studies have also revealed that exon 1 significantly increases transcriptional activity of ALDH1L1 promoter in a luciferase reporter assay. Interestingly, the exon is extensively methylated in samples with a strongly down-regulated or silenced ALDH1L1 gene.
PMCID: PMC3111244  PMID: 21779486
ALDH1L1; CpG island methylation; folate metabolism; lung adenocarcinoma
24.  The DNA methylation landscape of small cell lung cancer suggests a differentiation defect of neuroendocrine cells 
Oncogene  2012;32(30):3559-3568.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a disease characterized by aggressive clinical behavior and lack of effective therapy. Due to its tendency for early dissemination, only a third of patients have limited-stage disease at the time of diagnosis. SCLC is thought to derive from pulmonary neuroendocrine cells. Although several molecular abnormalities in SCLC have been described, there are relatively few studies on epigenetic alterations in this type of tumor. Here, we have used methylation profiling with the methylated CpG island recovery assay (MIRA) in combination with microarrays and conducted the first genome-scale analysis of methylation changes that occur in primary SCLC and SCLC cell lines. Among the hundreds of tumor-specifically methylated genes discovered, we identified 73 gene targets that are methylated in more than 77% of primary SCLC tumors, most of which have never been linked to aberrant methylation in tumors. These methylated targets have potential for biomarker development for early detection and therapeutic management of SCLC. SCLC cell lines had a ~3-fold greater number of hypermethylated genes than primary tumors. Gene ontology analysis indicated a significant enrichment of methylated genes functioning as transcription factors and in processes of neuronal differentiation. Motif analysis of tumor-specific methylated regions identified enrichment of binding sites for several neural cell fate-specifying transcription factors including NEUROD1, HAND1, ZNF423 and REST. We hypothesize that two potential mechanisms, loss of cell fate-determining transcription factors by methylation of their promoters and functional inactivation of their corresponding genomic binding sites by DNA methylation, can promote a differentiation defect of neuroendocrine cells thus enhancing the ability of tumor progenitor cells to transition towards SCLC.
PMCID: PMC3625455  PMID: 22907430
25.  Differential targets of CpG island hypermethylation in primary and metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2003;40(1):25-33.
Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) often metastasise to the cervical lymph nodes. It is known for HNSCC as well as other cancers that progression from normal tissue to primary tumour and finally to metastatic tumour is characterised by an accumulation of genetic mutations. DNA methylation, an epigenetic modification, can result in loss of gene function in cancer, similar to genetic mutations such as deletions and point mutations. We have investigated the DNA methylation phenotypes of both primary HNSCC and metastatic tumours from 13 patients using restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS). With this technique, we were able to assess the methylation status of an average of nearly 1300 CpG islands for each tumour. We observed that the number of CpG islands hypermethylated in metastatic tumours is significantly greater than what is found in the primary tumours overall, but not in every patient. Interestingly, the data also clearly show that many loci methylated in a patient's primary tumour are no longer methylated in the metastatic tumour of the same patient. Thus, even though metastatic HNSCC methylate a greater proportion of CpG islands than do the primary tumours, they do so at different subsets of loci. These data show an unanticipated variability in the methylation state of loci in primary and metastatic HNSCCs within the same patient. We discuss two possible explanations for how different epigenetic events might arise between the primary tumour and the metastatic tumour of a person.
PMCID: PMC1735270  PMID: 12525538

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