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Int J Cancer. 2004 Sep 20;111(5):669-78.

DNA binding sites for putative methylation boundaries in the unmethylated region of the BRCA1 promoter.

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London Regional Cancer Centre, Child Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada.


Changes in DNA methylation patterns are frequently observed in human cancers and are associated with a decrease in tumor suppressor gene expression. Hypermethylation of the BRCA1 promoter has been reported in a portion of sporadic breast tumours that correspond to a reduction in BRCA1 transcription and expression. Questions remain concerning the maintenance of methylation free zones in promoter regions of tumor suppressor genes in normal tissues. Sodium bisulfite based analysis of the BRCA1 promoter defines a methylation free zone in normal breast tissue that starts 650 bp upstream of the transcription start site and extends for 1.4 kb through most of the BRCA1 CpG island. We provide data implicating 2 proteins, Sp1 and CTCF, in the maintenance of this methylation-free zone. Both of these proteins have been shown to function as methylation boundaries in other genes. Four Sp1 sites have been identified in the BRCA1 promoter by gel shift assays. In vivo binding of Sp1 has been confirmed at 2 of these sites in the BRCA1 promoter and at 2 CTCF sites that flank the unmethylated region. Our data suggest that these DNA binding sites for Sp1 and CTCF may act as boundary elements that are important in maintaining genomic integrity by delineating the normal methylation free BRCA1 promoter. Inactivation or disruption of these boundaries may facilitate an epigenetic "hit", in this case DNA methylation, leading to BRCA1 downregulation and contributing to tumorigenesis, particularly the genesis of sporadic breast tumours.

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