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Am J Pathol. 2001 Aug;159(2):465-71.

Hypomethylation of chromosome 1 heterochromatin DNA correlates with q-arm copy gain in human hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Department of Clinical Oncology, Sir Y. K. Pao Centre for Cancer, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong, China.


Using comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) analysis, we, and others, have shown that there is a high and consistent incidence of chromosome 1q copy gain in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Chromosome 1 rearrangements, that involved peri-centromeric breakpoints, have also been frequently reported in karyotypic studies of HCC. Satellite DNA hypomethylation has been postulated as the mechanism underlying the induction of chromosome 1 peri-centromeric instability in many human cancers and in individuals with the rare recessive disorder ICF (immunodeficiency, centromeric heterochromatin instability, facial anomalies). In this study, we have investigated the role of DNA hypomethylation in 1q copy gain in HCC by examining the methylation status of chromosome 1 heterochromatin DNA (band 1q12). Thirty-six histologically confirmed samples of HCC were studied (24 paired tumor and adjacent nontumorous liver tissues, and 12 tumor only). Hypomethylation of satellite 2 (Sat2) DNA in 1q12 was analyzed by Southern blotting using methyl-sensitive enzyme digestion. In parallel, all cases were analyzed by CGH. A strong correlation between hypomethylated Sat2 sequences and 1q copy gain with a 1q12 breakpoint was found (P < 0.001). We postulate that such hypomethylation alters the interaction between the CpG-rich satellite DNA and chromatin proteins, resulting in heterochromatin decondensation, breakage and aberrant 1q formation. Spectral karyotyping further supported the presence of fragile 1q12 in HCC. Of particular interest was the finding of Sat2 DNA hypomethylation in 5 of 24 adjacent nontumorous liver tissues examined. These tissues showed no evidence of malignancy on histological examination nor did they display any CGH abnormalities. Our findings suggest a role for Sat2 demethylation in the early stages of the stepwise progression of liver carcinogenesis.

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