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Cancer Res. 1989 Aug 1;49(15):4094-7.

Rapid appearance of hypomethylated DNA in livers of rats fed cancer-promoting, methyl-deficient diets.

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  • 1New York Blood Center, New York 10021.


Prolonged intake of diets deficient in sources of methyl groups leads to development of hepatomas in rats and promotes chemical carcinogenesis in both rats and certain strains of mice. Since methylation of cytosine residues in regulatory regions can affect gene activity, several investigators have postulated that the effects of methyl-deficient diets on tumorigenesis result from the inability of cells to maintain normal patterns of DNA methylation. However, significant decreases in the 5-methylcytosine content of liver DNA have not been reported to occur until rats have consumed methyl-deficient diets for several months. To determine whether methyl-deficient diets have immediate effects on nucleic acid methylation, we assessed the degree to which hepatocyte DNA and tRNA were methylated in vivo, by measuring their ability to act as methyl acceptors in vitro. Hypomethylation of DNA and tRNA was detected within 1 week after rats were started on a diet deficient In methionine, choline, folic acid, and vitamin B12 and it persisted throughout the 4 weeks of study. A significant elevation in liver DNA synthesis occurred in parallel with increased hypomethylation of DNA. Chronic failure to fully methylate DNA that is newly synthesized in response to liver damage induced by methyl-deficient diets provides a feasible mechanism for changing patterns of DNA methylation. Our results indicate that such changes could occur rapidly enough to play a causal role in the cancer-promoting and, in some instances, cancer-inducing properties of the diet.

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