Loss of DNA methylation and histone H4 lysine 20 trimethylation in human breast cancer cells is associated with aberrant expression of DNA methyltransferase 1, Suv4-20h2 histone methyltransferase and methyl-binding proteins

Cancer Biol Ther. 2006 Jan;5(1):65-70. doi: 10.4161/cbt.5.1.2288.


Cancer cells are characterized by epigenetic dysregulation, including global genome hypomethylation, regional hypo- and hypermethylation, altered histone modifications, and disturbed genomic imprinting. Despite the long-established fact that global DNA hypomethylation is a common feature of tumors, very little is known about evolution of this and other epigenetic alterations during tumor progression. The present study was undertaken to characterize the status of epigenetic dysregulation in three human breast cancer cell lines (MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-231(S30) that represent different stages of human breast cancer. Our data show that breast cancer cells are characterized by significant alterations in cellular epigenetic status compared to non- tumorigenic MCF-10-2A epithelial breast cells. Interestingly, more malignant MDA-MB- 231 human breast cancer cells have a more prominent loss of DNA methylation accompanied by altered expression of maintenance DNA methyltransferase DNMT1, methyl-binding proteins MeCP2 and MBD2, decreased trimethylation of lysine 20 of histone H4 and hyperacetylation of histone H4 compared to MCF-7 cells. The decrease in trimethylation of lysine 20 of histone H4 in MDA-MB-231 cells was accompanied by diminished expression of Suv4-20h2 histone methyltransferase. The results of present study demonstrate that MDA-MB-231 cells have more extensive epigenenic alterations than MCF-7. These results demonstrate that human breast cancer cells are characterized by prominent epigenetic alterations which are associated with increased malignant properties of cancer cells. Such epigenetic dysregulation may contribute to and may be indicative of the formation of a more aggressive tumor phenotype during tumor progression.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genome, Human
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / metabolism*
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Histones
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • Repressor Proteins
  • SUV39H1 protein, human
  • Methyltransferases
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNMT1 protein, human
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases
  • MBD4 protein, human
  • Lysine