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Genes Cancer. 2011 Feb;2(2):130-9. doi: 10.1177/1947601911405841.

Epigenetic Silencing of ALDH1L1, a Metabolic Regulator of Cellular Proliferation, in Cancers.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA.


FDH (10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase, the product of the ALDH1L1 gene), a major folate-metabolizing enzyme in the cytosol, is involved in the regulation of cellular proliferation. We have previously demonstrated that FDH is strongly and ubiquitously down-regulated in malignant human tumors and cancer cell lines. Here, we report that promoter methylation is a major mechanism controlling FDH levels in human cancers. A computational analysis has identified an extensive CpG island in the ALDH1L1 promoter region. It contains 96 CpG pairs and covers the region between -525 and +918 bp of the ALDH1L1 gene including the promoter, the entire exon 1, and a part of intron 1 immediately downstream of the exon. Bisulfite sequencing analysis revealed extensive methylation of the island (76%-95% of CpGs) in cancer cell lines. In agreement with these findings, treatment of FDH-deficient A549 cells with the methyltransferase inhibitor 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine restored FDH expression. Analysis of the samples from patients with lung adenocarcinomas demonstrated methylation of the ALDH1L1 CpG island in tumor samples and a total lack of methylation in respective normal tissues. The same phenomenon was observed in liver tissues: the CpG island was methylation free in DNA extracted from normal hepatocytes but was extensively methylated in a hepatocellular carcinoma. Levels of ALDH1L1 mRNA and protein correlated with the methylation status of the island, with tumor samples demonstrating down-regulation of expression or even complete silencing of the gene. Our studies have also revealed that exon 1 significantly increases transcriptional activity of ALDH1L1 promoter in a luciferase reporter assay. Interestingly, the exon is extensively methylated in samples with a strongly down-regulated or silenced ALDH1L1 gene.


ALDH1L1; CpG island methylation; folate metabolism; lung adenocarcinoma

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