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J Biol Chem. 1984 Sep 25;259(18):11601-6.

The effects of 5-azacytidine on the expression of the rat growth hormone gene. Methylation modulates but does not control growth hormone gene activity.


The role of DNA methylation in the expression of the rat growth hormone (rGH) gene was assessed by using a hypomethylating agent, 5-azacytidine, and the iso-schizomeric restriction enzymes MspI and HpaII. 5-Azacytidine increased rGH mRNA 3-8-fold in GH3D6 cells, a subclone of rat pituitary tumor cell lines that expresses one-tenth to one-fifteenth the GH expressed by two other clones, GH3 and GC. The effect was also detected at the level of pre-mRNA. The effect was independent of glucocorticoids and thyroid hormones and was found to be inheritable. The DNA methylation pattern generated by the isoschizomeric restriction enzymes indicated that the HpaII sites in the rGH gene were mostly methylated in GH3D6 cells but mostly unmethylated in GC cells. After treatment with 5-azacytidine, about 22% of these HpaII sites in GH3D6 cells became unmethylated. Thus, DNA methylation correlates inversely with the expression of the rGH gene in these cell lines. However, three other observations indicate that factors in addition to DNA methylation control rGH expression. First, in GC cells, even though most of the HpaII sites are unmethylated, the gene is not fully expressed. Second, in rat hepatoma cells, which do not express GH at all, the GH gene is less methylated than that in GH3D6 cells. Third, within the sensitivities of the assay methods, 5-azacytidine has no effect on the GH gene when it is completely silent. Taken together, the findings indicate that DNA methylation modulates but does not control GH gene expression. It is tempting to speculate that DNA methylation can influence expression only when the gene is committed to express.

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