Immunohistochemical evaluation of global DNA methylation: comparison with in vitro radiolabeled methyl incorporation assay

Biotech Histochem. 2000 Nov;75(6):251-8. doi: 10.3109/10520290009085128.


The in vitro radiolabeled methyl incorporation assay, a commonly used technique to evaluate global methylation of DNA, has some disadvantages and limitations. The purpose of the present study was to compare the results of global DNA methylation evaluated by radiolabeled methyl incorporation (CPM/microg of DNA) with immunohistochemical staining of the same tissue sections with a monoclonal antibody developed against 5-methylcytosine used (5-mc). We archival specimens of squamous cell cancer (SCC) of the human lung with a matched uninvolved specimen (n = 18 pairs) and 18 lung specimens from subjects without lung cancer (noncancer specimens) to make this comparison. The immunostaining for 5-mc was reported as a percentage of cells positive for staining as well as a weighted average of the intensity score. The results suggested that both radiolabeled methyl incorporation assay and immunostaining for 5-mc can be used to demonstrate hypomethylation of DNA in SCC tissues compared to matched uninvolved tissues. An advantage of immunostaining, however, is its ability to demonstrate hypomethylation of SCC compared to adjacent bronchial mucosa on the same archival specimen, obviating the need to use sections from both SCC and matched uninvolved tissues. Only by using the immunostaining technique were we able to document a statistically significant difference in DNA methylation between SCC and noncancer tissues. We conclude that the immunostaining technique has advantages over the radiolabeled methyl incorporation assay and may be best suited for evaluation of global DNA methylation when the methylation status of cancer cannot be normalized by methyl incorporation of normal tissues or when the number of samples available for evaluation is small.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • Biological Assay / methods*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Cytosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Cytosine / immunology
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA, Neoplasm / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques / methods
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Tritium


  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Tritium
  • 5-Methylcytosine
  • Cytosine