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Am J Pathol. 2002 Jan;160(1):59-66.

Specific patterns of gene methylation in natural killer cell lymphomas : p73 is consistently involved.

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Department of Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, People's Republic Of China.


Aberrant methylation of promoter CpG regions is a putative mechanism whereby tumor suppressor genes are inactivated. We used a candidate gene approach to investigate the patterns and significance of this epigenetic change in natural killer (NK) cell malignancies. Thirty-three patients were studied for promoter methylation in five putative tumor suppressor genes by methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction (MSP), which has a sensitivity of 10(-3). The p73 gene was methylated in 94% of cases, a frequency that is the highest known for any human malignancy. In the NK cell lymphoma line NK92, p73 was also completely methylated, and the p73 transcript was correspondingly not detectable by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Treatment of the cell line with 5-azacytidine, a demethylation reagent, led to demethylation of the p73 promoter and reinduction of p73 gene expression. These results suggested that promoter CpG methylation might be an important mechanism in suppressing p73 gene expression in NK cells. Other methylated genes included hMLH1 (63%), p16 (63%), p15 (48%), and RAR beta (47%). Methylation of two or more genes occurred in 88% of cases. With promoter methylation as a molecular marker, MSP identified two cases of occult marrow metastasis. Interestingly, the primary tumor and metastasis showed different methylation patterns, implying that separate clonal evolutions might have occurred at these sites. Furthermore, MSP also identified tumor infiltration in random oropharyngeal biopsies in a case where histological examination could not show evidence of tumor involvement. We conclude that NK cell malignancies show a specific pattern of promoter methylation, with p73 being consistently involved. These results suggest that p73 may be an important target in the neoplastic transformation of NK cells, and the demonstration of its methylation may serve as a potential molecular tool for NK cell lymphoma detection.

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