Early Detection Research Network

CpG island hypermethylation-associated silencing of non-coding RNAs transcribed from ultraconserved regions in human cancer.

Although only 1.5% of the human genome appears to code for proteins, much effort in cancer research has been devoted to this minimal fraction of our DNA. However, the last few years have witnessed the realization that a large class of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), named microRNAs, contribute to cancer development and progression by acting as oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes. Recent studies have also shown that epigenetic silencing of microRNAs with tumor suppressor features by CpG island hypermethylation is a common hallmark of human tumors. Thus, we wondered whether there were other ncRNAs undergoing aberrant DNA methylation-associated silencing in transformed cells. We focused on the transcribed-ultraconserved regions (T-UCRs), a subset of DNA sequences that are absolutely conserved between orthologous regions of the human, rat and mouse genomes and that are located in both intra- and intergenic regions. We used a pharmacological and genomic approach to reveal the possible existence of an aberrant epigenetic silencing pattern of T-UCRs by treating cancer cells with a DNA-demethylating agent followed by hybridization to an expression microarray containing these sequences. We observed that DNA hypomethylation induces release of T-UCR silencing in cancer cells. Among the T-UCRs that were reactivated upon drug treatment, Uc.160+, Uc283+A and Uc.346+ were found to undergo specific CpG island hypermethylation-associated silencing in cancer cells compared with normal tissues. The analysis of a large set of primary human tumors (n=283) demonstrated that hypermethylation of the described T-UCR CpG islands was a common event among the various tumor types. Our finding that, in addition to microRNAs, another class of ncRNAs (T-UCRs) undergoes DNA methylation-associated inactivation in transformed cells supports a model in which epigenetic and genetic alterations in coding and non-coding sequences cooperate in human tumorigenesis.

Calin GA, Croce CM, Esteller M, Liz J, Lujambio A, Melo SA, Portela A, Rossi S, Spizzo R

20802525

Oncogene, 2010, 29 (48)