DNA methylation and cancer

Adv Genet. 2010:70:27-56. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-380866-0.60002-2.


DNA methylation is one of the most intensely studied epigenetic modifications in mammals. In normal cells, it assures the proper regulation of gene expression and stable gene silencing. DNA methylation is associated with histone modifications and the interplay of these epigenetic modifications is crucial to regulate the functioning of the genome by changing chromatin architecture. The covalent addition of a methyl group occurs generally in cytosine within CpG dinucleotides which are concentrated in large clusters called CpG islands. DNA methyltransferases are responsible for establishing and maintenance of methylation pattern. It is commonly known that inactivation of certain tumor-suppressor genes occurs as a consequence of hypermethylation within the promoter regions and a numerous studies have demonstrated a broad range of genes silenced by DNA methylation in different cancer types. On the other hand, global hypomethylation, inducing genomic instability, also contributes to cell transformation. Apart from DNA methylation alterations in promoter regions and repetitive DNA sequences, this phenomenon is associated also with regulation of expression of noncoding RNAs such as microRNAs that may play role in tumor suppression. DNA methylation seems to be promising in putative translational use in patients and hypermethylated promoters may serve as biomarkers. Moreover, unlike genetic alterations, DNA methylation is reversible what makes it extremely interesting for therapy approaches. The importance of DNA methylation alterations in tumorigenesis encourages us to decode the human epigenome. Different DNA methylome mapping techniques are indispensable to realize this project in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Azacitidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Azacitidine / therapeutic use
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics
  • DNA, Neoplasm / metabolism*
  • Decitabine
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Silencing
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Decitabine
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • Azacitidine