De novo methylation of CpG island sequences in human fibroblasts overexpressing DNA (cytosine-5-)-methyltransferase

Paula M. Vertino, Ray Whay Chiu Yen, Jin Gao, Stephen B. Baylin

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Recent studies showing a correlation between the levels of DNA (cytosine-5-)-methyltransferase (DNA MTase) enzyme activity and tumorigenicity have implicated this enzyme in the carcinogenic process. Moreover, hypermethylatiou of CpG island-containing promoters is associated with the inactivation of genes important to tumor initiation and progression. One proposed role for DNA MTase in tumorigenesis is therefore a direct role in the de novo methylation of these otherwise unmethylated CpG islands. In this study, we sought to determine whether increased levels of DNA MTase could directly affect CpG island methylation. A full-length cDNA for human DNA MTase driven by the cytomegalovirus promoter was constitutively expressed in human fibroblasts. Individual clones derived from cells transfected with DNA MTase (HMT) expressed 1- to 50-fold the level of DNA MTase protein and enzyme activity of the parental cell line or clones transfected with the control vector alone (Neo). To determine the effects of DNA MTase overexpression on CpG island methylation, we examined 12 endogenous CpG island loci in the HMT clones. HMT clones expressing ≤9-fold the parental levels of DNA MTase activity were significantly hypermethylated relative to at least 11 Neo clones at live CpG island loci. In the HMT clones, methylation reached nearly 100% at susceptible CpG island loci with time in culture. In contrast, there was little change in the methylation status in the Neo clones over the same time frame. Taken together, the data indicate that overexpression of DNA MTase can drive the de novo methylation of susceptible CpG island loci, thus providing support for the idea that DNA MTase can contribute to tumor progression through CpG island methylation- mediated gene inactivation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4555-4565
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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