MDR1 promoter hypermethylation in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells: changes in chromatin structure induced by treatment with 5-Aza-cytidine

Cancer Biol Ther. 2004 Jun;3(6):540-8. doi: 10.4161/cbt.3.6.845. Epub 2004 Jun 10.


Resistance to the cytotoxic actions of antineoplastic drugs, whether intrinsic or acquired, remains a barrier to the establishment of curative chemotherapy regimens for advanced breast cancer. Over-expression of P-glycoprotein (P-gp), encoded by the MDR1 gene and known to mediate resistance to many antineoplastic drugs, may contribute to poor breast cancer treatment outcome. Nonetheless, the precise molecular mechanisms responsible for high or low level P-gp expression in breast cancer cells have not been established. We assessed the role of DNA hypermethylation near the MDR1 transcriptional regulatory region in MDR1 expression in MCF-7 breast cancer cells, which fail to express MDR1 mRNA, and MCF-7/ADR cells, known to express high MDR1 mRNA levels. When compared to MCF-7/ADR cells, MCF-7 cells manifested markedly diminished MDR1 transcription rates by nuclear run-off assay, but equivalent MDR1 promoter trans-activation activity in transient transfection experiments, indicating that cis factors were most likely responsible for the differences in MDR1 transcription between MCF-7/ADR cells and MCF-7 cells. Bisulfite genomic sequencing analyses revealed substantially less extensive MDR1 promoter methylation in MCF-7/ADR cells than in MCF-7 cells, suggesting that CpG dinucleotide methylation might contribute to the observed MDR1 transcription differences. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses indicated an inactive MDR1 chromatin conformation in MCF-7 cells, with a paucity of acetylated histones and the presence of 5-mC-binding proteins MeCP2 and MBD2, and an active MDR1 chromatin conformation in MCF-7/ADR cells, with an abundance of acetylated histones and the presence of the transcriptional trans-activator YB-1. Stable MCF-7 sublines which had been treated with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-azacytidine, exhibited a reduction in MDR1 promoter methylation and a complex MDR1 chromatin configuration, characterized by the simultaneous presence of transcriptional activators and repressors. In this state, MDR1 expression was markedly sensitive to treatment with the histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / genetics*
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism
  • Acetylation
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology
  • Azacitidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Azacitidine / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • DNA Methylation*
  • DNA Modification Methylases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Decitabine
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydroxamic Acids / pharmacology
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Transcriptional Activation* / drug effects
  • Transcriptional Activation* / physiology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / metabolism


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Chromatin
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histones
  • Hydroxamic Acids
  • RNA, Messenger
  • trichostatin A
  • Decitabine
  • Doxorubicin
  • DNA Modification Methylases
  • Azacitidine