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Neurobiol Dis. 2008 Dec;32(3):521-7. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2008.09.010. Epub 2008 Sep 30.

Different methylation of the TNF-alpha promoter in cortex and substantia nigra: Implications for selective neuronal vulnerability.

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Department of Neurology, University of Bonn, 53105 Bonn, Germany.


Increasing evidence has linked inflammatory processes to neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease (PD). Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) is a key inflammatory cytokine and several studies linked increased TNF-alpha to dopaminergic cell death in PD. The TNF-alpha promoter sequence contains several CpG dinucleotides located within or next to transcription factor binding sites. To test the hypothesis whether the methylation state of the TNF-alpha promoter contributes to increased expression of TNF-alpha in PD we compared DNA from different brain regions (substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and cortex) of PD patients and neurologically healthy, age and sex matched controls by bisulfite sequencing of the TNF-alpha promoter region. The TNF-alpha promoter DNA from SNpc was significantly less methylated in comparison to DNA from cortex; however both in PD patients and controls. Although there was a tendency for hypomethylation in PD, our analysis of the 10 CpGs in the TNF-alpha core promoter region (-258 to -35 relative to the TSS) revealed no particular pattern in PD patients compared to control and identified no particular hypomethylated position in cortex or SNpc DNA. Electrophoretic mobility shift and luciferase reporter assays showed that methylation of specific solitary CpG in the TNF-alpha promoter resulted in reduced binding of the transcription factors AP-2 and Sp1, respectively, and suppressed TNF-alpha promoter activity. The brain region specific methylation state of solitary CpG in the TNF-alpha promoter thus determines transcription factor binding efficacy and TNF-alpha expression. A lesser degree of methylation of the TNF-alpha promoter in SNpc cells could underlie the increased susceptibility of dopaminergic neurons to TNF-alpha mediated inflammatory reactions.

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