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Exp Mol Pathol. 2018 Aug;105(1):41-49. doi: 10.1016/j.yexmp.2018.05.011. Epub 2018 May 28.

Loss of c-KIT expression in breast cancer correlates with malignant transformation of breast epithelium and is mediated by KIT gene promoter DNA hypermethylation.

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Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


KIT Proto-Oncogene Receptor Tyrosine Kinase (KIT) is a transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinase which plays an important role in regulation of cell proliferation, survival and migration. Interestingly, the role of c-KIT in malignant transformation seems to be highly tissue-specific and it can act either as an oncogene or tumor suppressor gene. Here we analyzed the expression of c-KIT in normal breast tissues and tissues from different stages encompassing major steps of breast tumor development. Our study showed, that the c-KIT protein expression is gradually lost during the process of breast tissue transformation. The analysis of previously published datasets revealed that c-KIT expression in breast malignancies was downregulated at mRNA level. Because sequencing studies did not identify any recurrent mutations or copy number alterations, we proposed a potential epigenetic mechanism for the downregulation of c-KIT expression. In-silico analysis of the KIT promoter revealed the presence of CpG islands, therefore we performed bisulfite sequencing of normal breast epithelial tissues as well as breast tumor samples. We found, that KIT promoter is hypermethylated in breast tumors compared to normal breast tissues. Furthermore, treatment of breast cancer cell lines, that lack the expression of c-KIT, with methyltransferase inhibitor 5-Azacytidine (5Aza-2dC) resulted in increased expression of c-KIT mRNA. Collectively, our studies demonstrate that c-KIT expression is epigenetically downregulated during breast epithelium transformation and cancer development via KIT promoter hypermethylation.


Breast Cancer; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Immunohistochemistry; c-KIT

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