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Hum Mol Genet. 2013 Jan 1;22(1):74-83. doi: 10.1093/hmg/dds403. Epub 2012 Oct 5.

Control of epigenetic states by WT1 via regulation of de novo DNA methyltransferase 3A.

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  • 1Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, School of Medical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TD, UK.


Although tumour suppressor gene hypermethylation is a universal feature of cancer cells, little is known about the necessary molecular triggers. Here, we show that Wilms' tumour 1 (WT1), a developmental master regulator that can also act as a tumour suppressor or oncoprotein, transcriptionally regulates the de novo DNA methyltransferase 3A (DNMT3A) and that cellular WT1 levels can influence DNA methylation of gene promoters genome-wide. Specifically, we demonstrate that depletion of WT1 by short-interfering RNAs leads to reduced DNMT3A in Wilms' tumour cells and human embryonal kidney-derived cell lines. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrate WT1 recruitment to the DNMT3A promoter region and reporter assays confirm that WT1 directly transactivates DNMT3A expression. Consistent with this regulatory role, immunohistochemical analysis shows co-expression of WT1 and DNMT3A proteins in nuclei of blastemal cells in human fetal kidney and Wilms' tumours. Using genome-wide promoter methylation arrays, we show that human embryonal kidney cells over-expressing WT1 acquire DNA methylation changes at specific gene promoters where DNMT3A recruitment is increased, with hypermethylation being associated with silencing of gene expression. Elevated DNMT3A is also demonstrated at hypermethylated genes in Wilms' tumour cells, including a region of long-range epigenetic silencing. Finally, we show that depletion of WT1 in Wilms' tumour cells can lead to reactivation of gene expression from methylated promoters, such as TGFB2, a key modulator of epithelial-mesenchymal transitions. Collectively, our work defines a new regulatory modality for WT1 involving elicitation of epigenetic alterations which is most likely crucial to its functions in development and disease.

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