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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22009. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022009. Epub 2011 Jul 19.

Location-specific epigenetic regulation of the metallothionein 3 gene in esophageal adenocarcinomas.

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Department of Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.



Metallothionein 3 (MT3) maintains intracellular metal homeostasis and protects against reactive oxygen species (ROS)-induced DNA damage. In this study, we investigated the epigenetic alterations and gene expression of the MT3 gene in esophageal adenocarcinomas (EACs).


Using quantitative bisulfite pyrosequencing, we detected unique DNA methylation profiles in the MT3 promoter region. The CpG nucleotides from -372 to -306 from the transcription start site (TSS) were highly methylated in tumor (n = 64) and normal samples (n = 51), whereas CpG nucleotides closest to the TSS (-4 and +3) remained unmethylated in all normal and most tumor samples. Conversely, CpG nucleotides in two regions (from -139 to -49 and +296 to +344) were significantly hypermethylated in EACs as compared to normal samples [FDR<0.001, -log10(FDR)>3.0]. The DNA methylation levels from -127 to -8 CpG sites showed the strongest correlation with MT3 gene expression (r = -0.4, P<0.0001). Moreover, the DNA hypermethylation from -127 to -8 CpG sites significantly correlated with advanced tumor stages and lymph node metastasis (P = 0.005 and P = 0.0313, respectively). The ChIP analysis demonstrated a more repressive histone modification (H3K9me2) and less active histone modifications (H3K4me2, H3K9ace) in OE33 cells than in FLO-1 cells; concordant with the presence of higher DNA methylation levels and silencing of MT3 expression in OE33 as compared to FLO-1 cells. Treatment of OE33 cells with 5-Aza-deoxycitidine restored MT3 expression with demethylation of its promoter region and reversal of the histone modifications towards active histone marks.


In summary, EACs are characterized by frequent epigenetic silencing of MT3. The choice of specific regions in the CpG island is a critical step in determining the functional role and prognostic value of DNA methylation in cancer cells.

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