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Cancer Res. 2000 May 1;60(9):2368-71.

Inactivation of the DNA repair gene O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase by promoter hypermethylation is associated with G to A mutations in K-ras in colorectal tumorigenesis.

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  • 1Tumor Biology, The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, Baltimore, Maryland 21231, USA.


O6-methylguanine DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) is a DNA repair protein that removes mutagenic and cytotoxic adducts from the O6 position of guanine. O6-methylguanine mispairs with thymine during replication, and if the adduct is not removed, this results in conversion from a guanine-cytosine pair to an adenine-thymine pair. In vitro assays show that MGMT expression avoids G to A mutations and MGMT transgenic mice are protected against G to A transitions at ras genes. We have recently demonstrated that the MGMT gene is silenced by promoter methylation in many human tumors, including colorectal carcinomas. To study the relevance of defective MGMT function by aberrant methylation in relation to the presence of K-ras mutations, we studied 244 colorectal tumor samples for MGMT promoter hypermethylation and K-ras mutational status. Our results show a clear association between the inactivation of MGMT by promoter hypermethylation and the appearance of G to A mutations at K-ras: 71% (36 of 51) of the tumors displaying this particular type of mutation had abnormal MGMT methylation, whereas only 32% (12 of 37) of those with other K-ras mutations not involving G to A transitions and 35% (55 of 156) of the tumors without K-ras mutations demonstrated MGMT methylation (P = 0.002). In addition, MGMT loss associated with hypermethylation was observed in the small adenomas, including those that do not yet contain K-ras mutations. Hypermethylation of other genes such as p16INK4a and p14ARF was not associated with either MGMT hypermethylation or K-ras mutation. Our data suggest that epigenetic silencing of MGMT by promoter hypermethylation may lead to a particular genetic change in human cancer, specifically G to A transitions in the K-ras oncogene.

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