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Hum Mol Genet. 2001 Jun 15;10(13):1413-9.

Excessive CpG island hypermethylation in cancer cell lines versus primary human malignancies.

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  • 1Division of Human Cancer Genetics, Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics, The Ohio State University, 420 West 12th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA. Smiraglia.1@postbox.acs.ohio-state.edu


Cancer cell lines are widely used in many types of cancer research, including studies aimed at understanding DNA hypermethylation of gene promoters in cancer. Hypermethylation of promoters is capable of repressing the expression of tumor suppressor genes and may play a role in the development and/or progression of cancer. Although both primary malignancies and cancer cell lines exhibit this epigenetic phenomenon, there has been no direct comparison between them. In order to address this question, we have utilized restriction landmark genomic scanning to measure the hypermethylation phenotypes of cancer cell lines and compared these data with the same analysis performed on primary malignancies. In all cases, cancer cell lines exhibit significantly higher levels of CpG island hypermethylation than the primary malignancies they represent. Colon cancer cell lines are most similar to their respective tumors, with only a 5-fold increase in hypermethylation, while head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell lines show a 93-fold increase in hypermethylation. Furthermore, >57% of the loci methylated in cell lines are never methylated in 114 primary malignancies studied. Seventy percent of loci hypermethylated in cell lines are hypermethylated in lines from more than one type of cancer. These data indicate that most CpG island hypermethylation observed in cancer cell lines is due to an intrinsic property of cell lines as opposed to the malignant tissue from which they originated.

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