Epigenetic lesions causing genetic lesions in human cancer: promoter hypermethylation of DNA repair genes

Eur J Cancer. 2000 Dec;36(18):2294-300. doi: 10.1016/s0959-8049(00)00303-8.


The existence of genetic alterations affecting genes involved in cellular proliferation and death, such as TP53 and K-ras, is one of the most common features of tumour cells. Recently, gene inactivation by promoter hypermethylation has been demonstrated. Methylation is the main epigenetic modification in mammals and abnormal methylation of the CpG islands located in the promoter region of the genes leads to transcriptional silencing. Examples include the p16INK4a, p15INK4B, p14ARF, Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL), the oestrogen and progesterone receptors, E-cadherin, death associated protein (DAP) kinase and the first tumour suppressor gene described, retinoblastoma (Rb) gene. In most cases, methylation involves loss of expression, absence of a coding mutation and restoration of transcription by the use of demethylating agents. However, is there a linkage between genetic and epigenetic alterations? Our results show one side of this puzzle demonstrating that epigenetic lesions drive genetic lesions in cancer. Four specific epigenetic lesions, promoter hypermethylation of the DNA mismatch repair gene hMLH1, the DNA alkyl-repair gene O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT), the detoxifier glutathione S-transferase P1 (GSTP1) and the familial breast cancer gene BRCA1 may lead to four specific genetic lesions, microsatellite instability, G to A transitions, steroid-related adducts and double-strand breaks in DNA. This is probably only the beginning of an extensive list of epigenetic events that change and make the genetic environment of the transformed cell unstable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA Repair / genetics*
  • Exons / genetics
  • Genes, BRCA1 / genetics
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor / genetics
  • Glutathione S-Transferase pi
  • Glutathione Transferase / genetics
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics


  • Isoenzymes
  • GSTP1 protein, human
  • Glutathione S-Transferase pi
  • Glutathione Transferase