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J Biol Chem. 2002 Feb 15;277(7):4951-8. Epub 2001 Dec 3.

Methylation-mediated silencing of TMS1/ASC is accompanied by histone hypoacetylation and CpG island-localized changes in chromatin architecture.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology and the Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


Aberrant methylation of CpG-dense islands in the promoter regions of genes is an acquired epigenetic alteration associated with the silencing of tumor suppressor genes in human cancers. In a screen for endogenous targets of methylation-mediated gene silencing, we identified a novel CpG island-associated gene, TMS1, which is aberrantly methylated and silenced in response to the ectopic expression of DNA methyltransferase-1. TMS1 functions in the regulation of apoptosis and is frequently methylated and silenced in human breast cancers. In this study, we characterized the methylation pattern and chromatin architecture of the TMS1 locus in normal fibroblasts and determined the changes associated with its progressive methylation. In normal fibroblasts expressing TMS1, the CpG island is defined by an unmethylated domain that is separated from densely methylated flanking DNA by distinct 5' and 3' boundaries. Analysis of the nucleoprotein architecture of the locus in intact nuclei revealed three DNase I-hypersensitive sites that map within the CpG island. Strikingly, two of these sites coincided with the 5'- and 3'-methylation boundaries. Methylation of the TMS1 CpG island was accompanied by loss of hypersensitive site formation, hypoacetylation of histones H3 and H4, and gene silencing. This altered chromatin structure was confined to the CpG island and occurred without significant changes in methylation, histone acetylation, or hypersensitive site formation at a fourth DNase I-hypersensitive site 2 kb downstream of the TMS1 CpG island. The data indicate that there are sites of protein binding and/or structural transitions that define the boundaries of the unmethylated CpG island in normal cells and that aberrant methylation overcomes these boundaries to direct a local change in chromatin structure, resulting in gene silencing.

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