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PLoS Genet. 2008 Aug 15;4(8):e1000155. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000155.

Double strand breaks can initiate gene silencing and SIRT1-dependent onset of DNA methylation in an exogenous promoter CpG island.

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  • 1The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.

Abstract

Chronic exposure to inducers of DNA base oxidation and single and double strand breaks contribute to tumorigenesis. In addition to the genetic changes caused by this DNA damage, such tumors often contain epigenetically silenced genes with aberrant promoter region CpG island DNA hypermethylation. We herein explore the relationships between such DNA damage and epigenetic gene silencing using an experimental model in which we induce a defined double strand break in an exogenous promoter construct of the E-cadherin CpG island, which is frequently aberrantly DNA hypermethylated in epithelial cancers. Following the onset of repair of the break, we observe recruitment to the site of damage of key proteins involved in establishing and maintaining transcriptional repression, namely SIRT1, EZH2, DNMT1, and DNMT3B, and the appearance of the silencing histone modifications, hypoacetyl H4K16, H3K9me2 and me3, and H3K27me3. Although in most cells selected after the break, DNA repair occurs faithfully with preservation of activity of the promoter, a small percentage of the plated cells demonstrate induction of heritable silencing. The chromatin around the break site in such a silent clone is enriched for most of the above silent chromatin proteins and histone marks, and the region harbors the appearance of increasing DNA methylation in the CpG island of the promoter. During the acute break, SIRT1 appears to be required for the transient recruitment of DNMT3B and subsequent methylation of the promoter in the silent clones. Taken together, our data suggest that normal repair of a DNA break can occasionally cause heritable silencing of a CpG island-containing promoter by recruitment of proteins involved in silencing. Furthermore, with contribution of the stress-related protein SIRT1, the break can lead to the onset of aberrant CpG island DNA methylation, which is frequently associated with tight gene silencing in cancer.

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