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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 May 15;94(10):755-61.

DNA methylation and environmental exposures in human hepatocellular carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Leukemia, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, 77030, USA..



Hypermethylation of a CpG-rich promoter (CpG island) blocks expression of the corresponding gene. The CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP), defined as a variable pattern of hypermethylation of CpG islands in tumor suppressor genes, may be associated with carcinogenesis. To determine whether CIMP is associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and with exposure to environmental agents, we examined the methylation status of CpG islands in HCCs from countries with various HCC risks.


We examined the methylation status of 12 CpG islands (eight for known genes) in 85 HCC tumors from various geographic locations by use of bisulfite-polymerase chain reaction methylation assays and analyzed results with univariate and multivariable methods. All statistical tests were two-sided.


Eight CpG islands were hypermethylated. The frequency of hypermethylation in the 85 tumors was 62% for the estrogen receptor (ER), 42% for p16, 18% for cyclooxygenase-2, 21% for the T-type calcium channel gene, 38% for MINT31, 28% for MINT1, 15% for MINT27, and 11% for MINT2 (the latter four CpG islands are not yet associated with genes). Methylation levels of the eight frequently methylated CpG islands were positively correlated (from R =.2 [P =.05] to R =.6 [P<.001]), supporting the presence of CIMP. p16 methylation had statistically significant geographic variation (34.4% in tumors from China and Egypt versus 12.2% in tumors from the United States and Europe, difference = 22.2%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 11.2% to 33.2%; P<.001). Similar geographic variations were observed for ER methylation and CIMP. This observation was partly related to higher methylation in tumors from patients with cirrhosis (33.6% for patients with cirrhosis versus 11.7% for those without it; difference = 21.9%; 95% CI = 10.9% to 32.8%; P<.001) or hepatitis (34.2% for patients with hepatitis versus 6.2% for those without it; difference = 28%; 95% CI = 18.3% to 37.6%; P<.001).


Geographic variations in the methylation status of various CpG islands indicate that environmental factors may influence the frequent and concordant degree of hypermethylation in multiple genes in HCC tumors.

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