Site-specific DNA methylation in the neurofibromatosis (NF1) promoter interferes with binding of CREB and SP1 transcription factors

Oncogene. 1999 Jul 15;18(28):4108-19. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1202764.


Tumour suppressor genes and growth regulatory genes are frequent targets for methylation defects that can result in aberrant expression and mutagenesis. We have established a methylation map of the promoter region of the neurofibromatosis (NF1) gene and demonstrated functional sensitivity for methylation at specific sites for the SP1 and CRE binding (CREB) proteins in the NF1 regulatory region. We evaluated the methylation status of CpG dinucleotides within five promoter subregions in the human and mouse homologues of the neurofibromatosis (NF1) genes. Three 5' subregions were found to be consistently methylated in all the tissues analysed. In contrast, DNA methylation was absent in the vicinity of the transcription start site bounded by SP1 recognition sequences. Gelshift assays showed that methylation specifically inhibits the CREB transcription factor from binding to its recognition site at the NF1 transcription start site. Furthermore, SP1 elements within the NF1 promoter are methylation sensitive, particularly when methylation is present on the antisense strand. We propose that for NF1 as with several other tumour suppressor genes, CpG methylation occurs in a complex, site-specific manner with the maintenance of a methylation-free promoter region bounded by SP1 binding sites that allow an accessible promoter to be retained. When these SP1 boundaries are breached, methylation can sweep in, rendering the promoter inaccessible for specific methylation-sensitive transcription factors and leading to a loss of functional integrity of the methylation-free CpG island.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Binding, Competitive
  • CpG Islands*
  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein / metabolism*
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genes, Neurofibromatosis 1*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Organ Specificity
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Protein Binding
  • Sp1 Transcription Factor / metabolism*


  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein
  • Sp1 Transcription Factor
  • DNA