Critical role of histone methylation in tumor suppressor gene silencing in colorectal cancer

Yutaka Kondo, LanLan Shen, Jean-Pierre J Issa
Molecular and Cellular Biology 2003, 23 (1): 206-15
The mechanism of DNA hypermethylation-associated tumor suppressor gene silencing in cancer remains incompletely understood. Here, we show by chromatin immunoprecipitation that for three genes (P16, MLH1, and the O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase gene, MGMT), histone H3 Lys-9 methylation directly correlates and histone H3 Lys-9 acetylation inversely correlates with DNA methylation in three neoplastic cell lines. Treatment with the histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A (TSA) resulted in moderately increased Lys-9 acetylation at silenced loci with no effect on Lys-9 methylation and minimal effects on gene expression. By contrast, treatment with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5Aza-dC) rapidly reduced Lys-9 methylation at silenced loci and resulted in reactivation for all three genes. Combined treatment with 5Aza-dC and TSA was synergistic in reactivating gene expression through simultaneous effects on Lys-9 methylation and acetylation, which resulted in a robust increase in the ratio of Lys-9 acetylated and methylated histones at loci showing dense DNA methylation. By contrast to Lys-9, histone H3 Lys-4 methylation inversely correlated with promoter DNA methylation, was not affected by TSA, and was increased moderately at silenced loci by 5Aza-dC. Our results suggest that reduced H3 Lys-4 methylation and increased H3 Lys-9 methylation play a critical role in the maintenance of promoter DNA methylation-associated gene silencing in colorectal cancer.

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