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Oncogene. 2012 Apr 12;31(15):1963-74. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.373. Epub 2011 Aug 29.

Stabilization of phenotypic plasticity through mesenchymal-specific DNA hypermethylation in cancer cells.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Cytogenetics, Medical Research Institute and School of Biomedical Science, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Yushima Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.


The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has a crucial role in normal and disease processes including tumor progression. In this study, we first classified epithelial-like and mesenchymal-like oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) cell lines based on expression profiles of typical EMT-related genes using a panel of 18 OSCC cell lines. Then, we performed methylation-based and expression-based analyses of components of the Wnt signaling pathway, and identified WNT7A and WNT10A as genes silenced by mesenchymal-specific DNA hypermethylation in OSCCs. A significant association was revealed between some clinicopathological findings and the DNA methylation status of WNT7A (normal vs tumor, P=0.007; T1-2 vs T3-4, P=0.040; I-III vs IV, P=0.016) and WNT10A (N0-N1 vs N2-N3, P=0.046) in the advanced stages of OSCC. Moreover, we found that E-cadherin expression in cancer cells may be positively regulated by WNT7A, whose expression is negatively regulated by mesenchymal-specific DNA hypermethylation or ZEB1 in mesenchymal-like OSCC cells. Our findings indicate that epithelial-specific gene silencing through mesenchymal-specific DNA hypermethylation may stabilize the phenotypic plasticity of cancer cells during EMT/MET.

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