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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Mar;983:197-207.

Diet and DNA methylation interactions in cancer prevention.

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Nutritional Science Research Group, Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Epigenetic events constitute an important mechanism by which gene function is selectively activated or inactivated. Since epigenetic events are susceptible to change they offer potential explanations of how environmental factors, including diet, may modify cancer risk and tumor behavior. Abnormal methylation patterns are a nearly universal finding in cancer, as changes in DNA methylation have been observed in many cancer tissues (e.g., colon, stomach, uterine cervix, prostate, thyroid, and breast). Site-specific alterations in DNA methylation have also been observed in cancer and may play a significant role in gene regulation and cancer development. This review presents intriguing evidence that part of the anticancer properties attributed to several bioactive food components, encompassing both essential nutrients and non-essential components, may relate to DNA methylation patterns. Four sites where dietary factors may be interrelated with DNA methylation are discussed. First, dietary factors may influence the supply of methyl groups available for the formation of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM). Second, dietary factors may modify the utilization of methyl groups by processes including shifts in DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt) activity. A third plausible mechanism may relate to DNA demethylation activity. Finally, the DNA methylation patterns may influence the response to a bioactive food component.

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