Recently, the concept that epigenetic, as well as genetic, events might be central to the evolution of human cancer is re-emerging. Cancers often exhibit an aberrant methylation of gene promoter regions that is associated with loss of gene function. This DNA change constitutes a heritable state, not mediated by altered nucleotide sequence, that appears to be tightly linked to the formation of transcriptionally repressive chromatin. This epigenetic process acts as an alternative to mutations to disrupt tumor-suppressor gene function and can predispose to genetic alterations through inactivating DNA-repair genes. Dissecting the molecular processes that mediate these methylation changes will enhance our understanding of chromatin modeling and gene regulation and might present novel possibilities for cancer therapy. Methylation changes constitute potentially sensitive molecular markers to define risk states, monitor prevention strategies, achieve early diagnosis, and track the prognosis of cancer. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.
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