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Cancer Res. 2001 Apr 15;61(8):3419-24.

p16(INK4a) and histology-specific methylation of CpG islands by exposure to tobacco smoke in non-small cell lung cancer.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The p16(INK4a) protein inhibits cyclin-dependent kinase 4, a key regulator of progression through the G(1) phase of the cell cycle. Methylation of CpG islands in the promoter region is an important avenue for inactivation of p16. The mechanism of methylation of the p16 promoter region, however, has not been elucidated. Recent reports investigating p16 methylation in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) suggest that carcinogens in tobacco smoke induce the DNA methylation process. We investigated the association between methylation of the p16 promoter region and exposure to tobacco smoke in 185 primary NSCLCS: We also studied the relationship of p16 methylation with mutation of the K-ras and p53 genes, as well as with methylation at the DAP-kinase and p14(ARF) loci. Finally, we evaluated the prognostic significance of p16 methylation in NSCLC. The prevalence of p16 methylation was greater in squamous cell carcinoma (41%) compared with adenocarcinoma (22%; P = 0.03; Fisher's exact test). Methylation of p16 was significantly associated with pack-years smoked (P = 0.007; Wilcoxon rank sum test), duration of smoking (P = 0.0009; Wilcoxon rank sum test), and negatively with the time since quitting smoking (P = 0.03; Wilcoxon rank sum test). No methylation of the nearby p14(ARF) locus was detected, and methylation of the DAP-kinase locus was not associated with either p16 methylation or with exposure to tobacco smoke. In patients with stage 1 adenocarcinoma, p16 methylation was an independent risk factor predicting significantly shorter postsurgery survival (P = 0.03), controlling for the significant effects of other factors, including K-ras mutation. These findings suggest that methylation of CpG islands in tobacco-associated cancers occurs in a gene- and tissue-specific manner and is induced directly or indirectly by exposure to tobacco smoke in NSCLC.

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