Rearrangements in heterochromatin in the vicinity of the centromeres of chromosomes 1 and 16 are frequent in many types of cancer, including ovarian epithelial carcinomas. Satellite 2 DNA is the main sequence in the unusually long heterochromatin region adjacent to the centromere of each of these chromosomes. Rearrangements in these regions and hypomethylation of satellite 2 DNA are a characteristic feature of patients with a rare recessive genetic disease, ICF (immunodeficiency, centromeric region instability, and facial anomalies). In all normal tissues of postnatal somatic origin, satellite 2 DNA is highly methylated. We examined satellite 2 DNA methylation in ovarian tumors of different malignant potential, namely, ovarian cystadenomas, low malignant potential (LMP) tumors, and epithelial carcinomas. Most of the carcinomas and LMP tumors exhibited hypomethylation in satellite 2 DNA of both chromosomes 1 and 16. A comparison of methylation of these sequences in the three types of ovarian neoplasms demonstrated that there was a statistically significant correlation between the extent of this satellite DNA hypomethylation and the degree of malignancy (P<0.01). Also, there was a statistically significant association (P<0.005) between genome-wide hypomethylation and undermethylation of satellite 2 DNA among these 17 tumors. In addition, we found abnormal hypomethylation of satellite alpha DNA in the centromere of chromosome 1 in many of these tumors. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that one of the ways that genome-wide hypomethylation facilitates tumor development is that it often includes satellite hypomethylation which might predispose cells to structural and numerical chromosomal aberrations. Several of the proteins that bind to pericentromeric heterochromatin are known to be sensitive to the methylation status of their target sequences and so could be among the sensors for detecting abnormal demethylation and mediating effects on chromosome structure and stability.
Copyright 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.