Methylation of polycomb target genes in intestinal cancer is mediated by inflammation

Cancer Res. 2008 Dec 15;68(24):10280-9. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-08-1957.


Epigenetic changes are strongly associated with cancer development. DNA hypermethylation is associated with gene silencing and is often observed in CpG islands. Recently, it was suggested that aberrant CpG island methylation in tumors is directed by Polycomb (PcG) proteins. However, specific mechanisms responsible for methylation of PcG target genes in cancer are not known. Chronic infection and inflammation contribute to up to 25% of all cancers worldwide. Using glutathione peroxidase, Gpx1 and Gpx2, double knockout (Gpx1/2-KO) mice as a model of inflammatory bowel disease predisposing to intestinal cancer, we analyzed genome-wide DNA methylation in the mouse ileum during chronic inflammation, aging, and cancer. We found that inflammation leads to aberrant DNA methylation in PcG target genes, with 70% of the approximately 250 genes methylated in the inflamed tissue being PcG targets in embryonic stem cells and 59% of the methylated genes being marked by H3K27 trimethylation in the ileum of adult wild-type mice. Acquisition of DNA methylation at CpG islands in the ileum of Gpx1/2-KO mice frequently correlates with loss of H3K27 trimethylation at the same loci. Inflammation-associated DNA methylation occurs preferentially in tissue-specific silent genes and, importantly, is much more frequently represented in tumors than is age-dependent DNA methylation. Sixty percent of aberrant methylation found in tumors is also present in the inflamed tissue. In summary, inflammation creates a signature of aberrant DNA methylation, which is observed later in the malignant tissue and is directed by the PcG complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / deficiency
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / genetics
  • Ileitis / genetics*
  • Ileitis / pathology
  • Intestinal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Intestinal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Polycomb-Group Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Polycomb-Group Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Gpx2 protein, mouse
  • glutathione peroxidase GPX1
  • Glutathione Peroxidase