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Cancer Res. 2003 Aug 15;63(16):4984-9.

Procaine is a DNA-demethylating agent with growth-inhibitory effects in human cancer cells.

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Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory, Molecular Pathology Program, Spanish National Cancer Centre (CNIO), Madrid 28029, Spain.


Methylation-associated silencing of tumor suppressor genes is recognized as being a molecular hallmark of human cancer. Unlike genetic alterations, changes in DNA methylation are potentially reversible. This possibility has attracted considerable attention from a therapeutics standpoint. Nucleoside-analogue inhibitors of DNA methyltransferases, such as 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, are able to demethylate DNA and restore silenced gene expression. Unfortunately, the clinical utility of these compounds has not yet been fully realized, mainly because of their side effects. A few non-nucleoside inhibitors of DNA methyltransferases have been reported, including the anti-arrhythmia drug procainamide. Following this need to find new demethylating agents, we have tested the potential use of procaine, an anesthetic drug related to procainamide. Using the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line, we have found that procaine is a DNA-demethylating agent that produces a 40% reduction in 5-methylcytosine DNA content as determined by high-performance capillary electrophoresis or total DNA enzyme digestion. Procaine can also demethylate densely hypermethylated CpG islands, such as those located in the promoter region of the RAR beta 2 gene, restoring gene expression of epigenetically silenced genes. This property may be explained by our finding that procaine binds to CpG-enriched DNA. Finally, procaine also has growth-inhibitory effects in these cancer cells, causing mitotic arrest. Thus, procaine is a promising candidate agent for future cancer therapies based on epigenetics.

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