Gene body methylation can alter gene expression and is a therapeutic target in cancer

Cancer Cell. 2014 Oct 13;26(4):577-90. doi: 10.1016/j.ccr.2014.07.028. Epub 2014 Sep 25.


DNA methylation in promoters is well known to silence genes and is the presumed therapeutic target of methylation inhibitors. Gene body methylation is positively correlated with expression, yet its function is unknown. We show that 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine treatment not only reactivates genes but decreases the overexpression of genes, many of which are involved in metabolic processes regulated by c-MYC. Downregulation is caused by DNA demethylation of the gene bodies and restoration of high levels of expression requires remethylation by DNMT3B. Gene body methylation may, therefore, be an unexpected therapeutic target for DNA methylation inhibitors, resulting in the normalization of gene overexpression induced during carcinogenesis. Our results provide direct evidence for a causal relationship between gene body methylation and transcription.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Division
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Gene Expression*
  • Humans
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic