Identifying DNA methylation biomarkers of cancer drug response

Am J Pharmacogenomics. 2005;5(4):223-32. doi: 10.2165/00129785-200505040-00003.


In the last few years, DNA methylation has become one of the most studied gene regulation mechanisms in carcinogenesis as a result of the cumulative evidence produced by the scientific community. Moreover, advances in the technologies that allow detection of DNA methylation in a variety of analytes have opened the possibility of developing methylation-based tests. A number of studies have provided evidence that specific methylation changes can alter the response to different therapeutic agents in cancer and, therefore, be useful biomarkers. For example, the association of the methylation status of DNA repair genes such as MGMT and MLH1 illustrate the two main mechanisms of response to DNA damaging agents. Loss of methylation of MGMT, and the subsequent increase in gene expression, leads to a reduction in response to alkylating agents as a result of enhanced repair of drug-induced DNA damage. Conversely, the increase in methylation of MLH1 and its resulting loss of expression has been consistently observed in drug-resistant tumor cells. MLH1 encodes a mismatch repair enzyme activated in response to DNA damage; activation of MLH1 also induces apoptosis of tumor cells, and thus loss of its expression leads to resistance to DNA-damaging agents. Other methylation-regulated genes that could serve as biomarkers in cancer therapy include drug transporters, genes involved in microtubule formation and stability, and genes related to hormonal therapy response. These methylation markers have potential applications for disease prognosis, treatment response prediction, and the development of novel treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects*
  • DNA Repair / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Biomarkers