It remains unclear to what extent drugs targeting transcriptional repressor complexes affect global gene expression in cells derived from target and nontarget human tissues. To address this question, we used genome-wide expression analysis using microarrays to analyze the response of three tumor and one normal epithelial cell line to treatment with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine (5-aza-CdR). Notably, we found that 5-aza-CdR treatment induced a limited number of genes (mean, 0.67%; range, 0.17-1.8% of 25,940 genes screened) in each cell line tested. The majority of the gene expression changes that followed 5-aza-CdR treatment were conserved in tumor and normal cells, including genes that function in cell proliferation, differentiation, immune presentation, and cytokine signaling. In contrast, 5-aza-CdR treatment induced the expression of cancer-testis class tumor antigens only in tumor cell lines. To explain this tissue-specific response, we analyzed the mechanism of transcriptional regulation of the prototype member of this tumor antigen gene family, MAGE-1. Taken from our analysis of MAGE-1 gene regulation, we propose that 5-aza-CdR-mediated gene activation has two distinct requirements: 1) the reversal of promoter hypermethylation, and 2) the presence of transcriptional activators competent for the activation of hypomethylated target promoters. This latter requirement for gene activation by 5-aza-CdR is probably mediated by sequence-specific transcription factors and may account for the limited number of human genes induced by 5-aza-CdR treatment. This revised model for gene activation by 5-aza-CdR has important implications for the use of DNA methyltransferase inhibitors in clinical settings.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine