Chromosomal instability (CIN) is a cytogenetic hallmark of human cancers. Increasing evidence suggests that impairment of mitotic checkpoint is causally associated with CIN. CHFR is one of the mitotic checkpoint regulators and it delays chromosome condensation in response to mitotic stress. Epigenetic inactivation of CHFR through promoter CpG hypermethylation may lead to CIN and has been reported in several human cancers. In this study, we investigated the CHFR gene expression in a panel of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer cell lines. We found that the expression of CHFR mRNA was significantly decreased or undetectable in all eight NPC cell lines as well as three human NPC xenografts, whereas non-malignant nasopharyngeal cell lines and other cancer cell lines tested expressed CHFR at relatively high levels. Hypermethylation of CHFR promoter region was also strongly correlated with decreased CHFR expression in NPC cell lines and xenografts. Treatment with a methyltransferase inhibitor, 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, led to restoration of CHFR expression in NPC cell lines. More importantly, hypermethylation of CHFR promoter region was detected in 61.1% (22 out of 36) of primary NPC tumors while it was absent in non-malignant tissues. These findings suggest that downregulation of CHFR is a common event in NPC cells which may be due to hypermethylation of the gene promoter region.
2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.