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Cancer Res. 2001 Jun 15;61(12):4689-92.

Promoter hypermethylation of the DNA repair gene O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase is associated with the presence of G:C to A:T transition mutations in p53 in human colorectal tumorigenesis.

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Tumor Biology, The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, Baltimore, Maryland 21231, USA.


Defects in DNA repair may be responsible for the genesis of mutations in key genes in cancer cells. The tumor suppressor gene p53 is commonly mutated in human cancer by missense point mutations, most of them G:C to A:T transitions. A recognized cause for this type of change is spontaneous deamination of the methylcytosine. However, the persistence of a premutagenic O(6)-methylguanine can also be invoked. This last lesion is removed in the normal cell by the DNA repair enzyme O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT). In many tumor types, epigenetic silencing of MGMT by promoter hypermethylation has been demonstrated and linked to the appearance of G to A mutations in the K-ras oncogene in colorectal tumors. To study the relevance of defective MGMT function by aberrant methylation in relation to the presence of p53 mutations, we studied 314 colorectal tumors for MGMT promoter hypermethylation and p53 mutational spectrum. Inactivation of MGMT by aberrant methylation was associated with the appearance of G:C to A:T transition mutations at p53 (Fischer's exact test, two-tailed; P = 0.01). Overall, MGMT methylated tumors displayed p53 transition mutations in 43 of 126 (34%) cases, whereas MGMT unmethylated tumors only showed G:C to A:T changes in 37 of 188 (19%) tumors. A more striking association was found in G:C to A:T transitions in non-CpG dinucleotides; 71% (12 of 17) of the total non-CpG transition mutations in p53 were observed in MGMT aberrantly methylated tumors (Fischer's exact test, two-tailed; P = 0.008). Our data suggest that epigenetic silencing of MGMT by promoter hypermethylation may lead to G:C to A:T transition mutations in p53.

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