Background: A novel alkylating agent, temozolomide, has proven efficacious in the treatment of malignant gliomas. However, expression of O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) renders glioma cells resistant to the treatment, indicating that identification of mechanisms underlying the gene regulation of MGMT is highly required. Although glioma-derived cell lines have been widely employed to understand such mechanisms, those models harbor numerous unidentified genetic lesions specific for individual cell lines, which complicates the study of specific molecules and pathways.
Results: We established glioma models by transforming normal human astrocyte cells via retroviral-mediated gene transfer of defined genetic elements and found that MGMT was downregulated in the transformed cells. Interestingly, inhibitors of DNA methylation and histone deacetylation failed to increase MGMT protein levels in the transformed astrocyte cells as well as cultured glioblastoma cell lines, whereas the treatment partially restored mRNA levels. These observations suggest that downregulation of MGMT may depend largely on cellular factors other than promoter-hypermethylation of MGMT genes, which is being used in the clinic to nominate patients for temozolomide treatment. Furthermore, we discovered that Valproic acid, one of histone deacetylase inhibitors, suppressed growth of the transformed astrocyte cells without increasing MGMT protein, suggesting that such epigenetic compounds may be used to some types of gliomas in combination with alkylating agents.
Conclusion: Normal human astrocyte cells allow us to generate experimental models of human gliomas by direct manipulation with defined genetic elements, in contrast to tumor-derived cell lines which harbor numerous unknown genetic abnormalities. Thus, we propose that the study using the transformed astrocyte cells would be useful for identifying the mechanisms underlying MGMT regulation in tumor and for the development of rational drug combination in glioma therapies.