Background and aims: Runx family transcription factors are integral components of transforming growth factor-beta signaling pathways and have been implicated in cell cycle regulation, differentiation, apoptosis, and malignant transformation. The silencing of tumor suppressor genes by aberrant hypermethylation occurs frequently in human cancer. It has been noted previously that Runx3 is regarded as an important tumor suppressor gene.
Methods: Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction was used to measure Runx3 and the DNA methyltransferase 1 (Dnmt1) messenger RNA (mRNA) expression level of paired samples of primary gastric cancer and corresponding non-cancerous gastric mucosae, which were obtained from surgically resected specimens of 70 patients. Western blot was used to detect the expression of Runx3 at protein levels. The promoter methylation status was measured by using methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction. We used Annexin V-FITC/PI assay to detect cell apoptosis, and the cell cycle was also analyzed. In order to examine the cell cycle and/or apoptosis, we determined p27 and caspase 3 expression by immunohistological analysis.
Results: Our results demonstrate a loss or substantial decrease of Runx3 expression in 70 cases of gastric tumors as compared with that in normal gastric mucosa (0.5749 +/- 0.3580 vs 1.7252 +/- 0.4085, P < 0.05). The protein levels of the Runx3 gene were significantly lower in gastric cancers than those in adjacent normal tissues. The hypermethylation of Runx3 was involved in 50% (28/56) of gastric cancer tissues, which had reduced Runx3 mRNA expression. The differences of the Dnmt1 mRNA level were significant between the methylated and unmethylated Runx3 cancerous groups. Runx3 methylation was significantly correlated with increased Dnmt1 (r = 0.64, P < 0.01). Enforced restoration of Runx3 expression led to the induction of cell apoptosis and upregulation of p27 and caspase3 expression in vitro.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that a decrease of Runx3 expression by DNA hypermethylation is frequently associated with the evolution of gastric cancer. Runx3 was an independent prognostic factor and a potential therapeutic target for gastric cancer.