Environment, diet and CpG island methylation: Epigenetic signals in gastrointestinal neoplasia

Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich NR4 7UA, UK. <>
Food and Chemical Toxicology (Impact Factor: 2.9). 05/2008; 46(4):1346-59. DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2007.09.101
Source: PubMed


The epithelial surfaces of the mammalian alimentary tract are characterised by very high rates of cell proliferation and DNA synthesis, and in humans they are highly susceptible to cancer. The role of somatic mutations as drivers of carcinogenesis in the alimentary tract is well established, but the importance of gene silencing by epigenetic mechanisms is increasingly recognised. Methylation of CpG islands is an important component of the epigenetic code that regulates gene expression during development and normal cellular differentiation, and a number of genes are well known to become abnormally methylated during the development of tumours of the oesophagus, stomach and colorectum. Aberrant patterns of DNA methylation develop as a result of pathological processes such as chronic inflammation, and in response to various dietary factors, including imbalances in the supply of methyl donors, particularly folates, and exposure to DNA methyltransferase inhibitors, which include polyphenols and possibly isothiocyanates from plant foods. However the importance of these environmental interactions in human health and disease remains to be established. Recent moves to modify the exposure of human populations to folate, by mandatory supplementation of cereal foods, emphasise the importance of understanding the susceptibility of the human epigenome to dietary and other environmental effects.

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    • "DNA methylation, which occurs primarily in the C5 position of the cytosine ring in 5=-to 3=-oriented CG dinucleotides (CpG), affects gene expression in many biological processes such as differentiation, genomic imprinting , and DNA mutation and repair [10] [11]. DNA hypermethylation , usually occurring at promoter CpG islands, is a major epigenetic mechanism for silencing the expression of genes [12] and is tightly regulated by three different DNA methylases involved in de novo and maintenance methylation during replication [9] [13]. Other DNA methyl group transfer-related enzymes are demethylases, which act by demethylating DNA during differentiation [14]. "
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    ABSTRACT: We assessed the impact of high serum folate concentration on erythrocyte S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH) concentrations, SAM/SAH ratio, CpG methylation levels across the promoter region of the extracellular superoxide dismutase (ec-SOD) gene, and ec-SOD activity in healthy men. Serum folate levels were measured in 111 subjects who were categorized in quintiles according to their folate status. Subjects located at the lowest, middle, and upper quintiles were selected for assessment of SAM and SAH by high-performance liquid chromatography, C677T genotype of the 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene, ec-SOD methylation of CpG sites in lymphocytes genomic DNA by bisulfate treatment, and ec-SOD activity by a chemical assay. Sixteen subjects were in the lowest serum folate quintile (<23.6 nmol/L), 17 in the middle (>34-<42 nmol/L), and 14 in the highest (>45nmol/L). SAM concentration was higher in the upper than in the middle and lowest quintiles (5.57 +/- 1.58, 2.52 +/- 0.97, 2.29 +/- 1.2 micromol/L; P < 0.0001). SAH concentration was higher in the upper compared with the lowest quintile (0.76 +/- 0.24 versus 0.52 +/- 0.23 micromol/L, P < 0.001). There were no differences in the SAM/SAH ratio, ec-SOD activity, methylation status of CpG sites of the ec-SOD gene, and TMTHFR C677T genotype between groups. Serum folate concentrations in the highest quintile among healthy humans are associated with increased erythrocyte SAM and SAH concentrations, but not with SAM/SAH ratio or with methylation levels of CpG sites across the promoter region of the ec-SOD gene. Further research is required to determine if these findings are beneficial or harmful.
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    ABSTRACT: Colorectal cancer has provided an excellent model for studying the genetic basis of cancer and is one of the better-understood malignancies in this regard. The orderly progression of the disease, with distinct genetic alterations at each step, is a useful framework for deciphering the molecular basis of neoplasia. Epigenetics, the study of clonal changes in gene expression without associated genetic lesions, has raised increased interest recently, in part because of the identification of DNA methylation as a potential molecular mediator of the process. Several tumor-suppressor genes are silenced in various neoplasms in association with aberrant promoter methylation, and in the absence of coding region mutations. The study of DNA methylation changes in colorectal cancer has now provided additional clues into the pathogenesis of the disease. This review presents evidence for a model whereby DNA methylation changes play two distinct roles in the molecular evolution of colorectal cancer. Initially, progressive methylation and silencing of a subset of genes takes place in normal tissues as a function of age or time-dependent events and predisposes these normal cells to neoplastic transformation. At a later stage of disease progression, DNA methylation plays an important role in a subset of tumors affected by the CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP), a recently identified pathway that results in a form of epigenetic instability through the simultaneous silencing of multiple genes. DNA methylation changes have important interactions with genetic lesions in this cancer type. CIMP? cancers include the majority of tumors with sporadic mismatch repair deficiency through hypermethylation of the hMLH1 promoter, and also account for the majority of tumors with Ki-ras mutations through an unknown mechanism. By contrast, CIMP− cases evolve along a more classic genetic instability pathway, with a high rate of p53 mutations and chromosomal changes. Thus, the integration of epigenetic and genetic information provides a more complete molecular understanding of colorectal cancer and may have implications for the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of patients affected by this disease.
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