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Br J Cancer. 1999 Jul; 80(9): 1312–1321.
PMCID: PMC2363067

DNA methylation and expression of LINE-1 and HERV-K provirus sequences in urothelial and renal cell carcinomas


Since DNA methylation is considered an important mechanism for silencing of retroelements in the mammalian genome, hypomethylation in human tumours may lead to their reactivation. The methylation status of LINE-1 retroposons was determined in 73 samples of urinary bladder cancers, 34 specimens of renal cell carcinoma and in the corresponding normal tissues by Southern blot analysis. LINE-1 sequences were strongly methylated in normal tissues and were significantly hypomethylated in 69 (95%) urothelial carcinomas, but in none of the renal carcinomas. Hypomethylation in bladder cancers was independent of stage and tended to increase with grade. The methylation status of HERV-K proviral DNA in normal and transformed urothelial cells paralleled that of LINE-1 sequences (r2 = 0.87). It was shown by ligation-mediated polymerase chain reaction that hypomethylation also extended to the LINE-1 promoter sequence located at the 5′-ends of full-length elements which is repressed by methylation in somatic tissues. Accordingly, full-length LINE-1 transcripts were detected by Northern blot analysis in two urothelial carcinoma cell lines. In contrast, transcripts from HERV-K proviruses were restricted to teratocarcinoma cell lines. Our data indicate that genome-wide DNA hypomethylation is an early change in urothelial carcinoma, but is absent from renal cell carcinoma. The coordinate changes of LINE-1 and HERV-K DNA methylation suggest that hypomethylation in urothelial cancer affects a variety of different retroelements to similar extents. We speculate that decreased methylation of LINE-1 retroelements, in particular, may contribute to genomic instability in specific human tumours such as urothelial carcinoma by rendering these normally repressed sequences competent for transcription and recombination. © 1999 Cancer Research Campaign

Keywords: bladder cancer, renal cancer, retrotransposon, methylcytosine, chromosome instability

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Selected References

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