CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) in cancer: causes and implications

Cancer Lett. 2008 Sep 18;268(2):177-86. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2008.03.022. Epub 2008 May 8.


Strong evidence exists for a subgroup of tumours, from a variety of tissue types, exhibiting concordant tumour specific DNA methylation: the "CpG island methylator phenotype" (CIMP). Occurrence of CIMP is associated with a range of genetic and environmental factors, although the molecular causes are not well-understood. Both increased expression and aberrant targeting of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) could contribute to the occurrence of CIMP. One under-explored area is the possibility that DNA damage may induce or select for CIMP during carcinogenesis or treatment of tumours with chemotherapy. DNA damaging agents can induce DNA damage at guanine rich regions throughout the genome, including CpG islands. This DNA damage can result in stalled DNA synthesis, which will lead to localised increased DNMT1 concentration and therefore potentially increased DNA methylation at these sites. Chemotherapy can select for cells which have increased tolerance to DNA damage due to increased lesion bypass, in some cases by mechanisms which involve inactivation of genes by CpG island methylation. CIMP has been associated with worse patient prognosis, probably due to increased epigenetic plasticity. Therefore, further clinical testing of the diagnostic and prognostic value of the current CIMP markers, as well as increasing our understanding of the molecular causes underlying CIMP are required.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CpG Islands*
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / physiology
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Prognosis


  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA methyltransferase 3A
  • DNMT1 protein, human