Arsenicals produce stable progressive changes in DNA methylation patterns that are linked to malignant transformation of immortalized urothelial cells

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2009 Dec 1;241(2):221-9. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2009.08.019. Epub 2009 Aug 28.


Aberrant DNA methylation participates in carcinogenesis and is a molecular hallmark of a tumor cell. Tumor cells generally exhibit a redistribution of DNA methylation resulting in global hypomethylation with regional hypermethylation; however, the speed in which these changes emerge has not been fully elucidated and may depend on the temporal location of the cell in the path from normal, finite lifespan to malignant transformation. We used a model of arsenical-induced malignant transformation of immortalized human urothelial cells and DNA methylation microarrays to examine the extent and temporal nature of changes in DNA methylation that occur during the transition from immortal to malignantly transformed. Our data presented herein suggest that during arsenical-induced malignant transformation, aberrant DNA methylation occurs non-randomly, progresses gradually at hundreds of gene promoters, and alters expression of the associated gene, and these changes are coincident with the acquisition of malignant properties, such as anchorage independent growth and tumor formation in immunocompromised mice. The DNA methylation changes appear stable, since malignantly transformed cells removed from the transforming arsenical exhibited no reversion in DNA methylation levels, associated gene expression, or malignant phenotype. These data suggest that arsenicals act as epimutagens and directly link their ability to induce malignant transformation to their actions on the epigenome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / chemically induced*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects*
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Organometallic Compounds / toxicity*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Urothelium / drug effects*
  • Urothelium / pathology


  • Organometallic Compounds
  • monomethylarsonous acid
  • Arsenic