Background: Neoplastic cells harbor both hypomethylated and hypermethylated regions of DNA. Whereas hypomethylation is found mainly in repeat sequences, regional hypermethylation has been linked to the transcriptional silencing of certain tumor suppressor genes. We attempted to search for candidate genes involved in breast/prostate carcinogenesis, using the criteria that they should be expressed in primary cultures of normal breast/prostate epithelial cells but are frequently downregulated in breast/prostate cancer cell lines and that their promoters are hypermethylated.
Methodology/principal findings: We identified several dozens of candidates among 194 homeobox and related genes using Systematic Multiplex RT-PCR and among 23,000 known genes and 23,000 other expressed sequences in the human genome by DNA microarray hybridization. An additional examination, by real-time qRT-PCR of clinical specimens of breast cancer, further narrowed the list of the candidates. Among them, the most frequently downregulated genes in tumors were NP_775756 and ZNF537, from the homeobox gene search and the genome-wide search, respectively. To our surprise, we later discovered that these genes belong to the same gene family, the 3-member Teashirt family, bearing the new names of TSHZ2 and TSHZ3. We subsequently determined the methylation status of their gene promoters. The TSHZ3 gene promoter was found to be methylated in all the breast/prostate cancer cell lines and some of the breast cancer clinical specimens analyzed. The TSHZ2 gene promoter, on the other hand, was unmethylated except for the MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cell line. The TSHZ1 gene was always expressed, and its promoter was unmethylated in all cases.
Conclusions/significance: TSHZ2 and TSHZ3 genes turned out to be the most interesting candidates for novel tumor suppressor genes. Expression of both genes is downregulated. However, differential promoter methylation suggests the existence of distinctive mechanisms of transcriptional inactivation for these genes.