DNMT1 is essential for mammary and cancer stem cell maintenance and tumorigenesis

Nat Commun. 2015 Apr 24:6:6910. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7910.


Mammary stem/progenitor cells (MaSCs) maintain self-renewal of the mammary epithelium during puberty and pregnancy. DNA methylation provides a potential epigenetic mechanism for maintaining cellular memory during self-renewal. Although DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) are dispensable for embryonic stem cell maintenance, their role in maintaining MaSCs and cancer stem cells (CSCs) in constantly replenishing mammary epithelium is unclear. Here we show that DNMT1 is indispensable for MaSC maintenance. Furthermore, we find that DNMT1 expression is elevated in mammary tumours, and mammary gland-specific DNMT1 deletion protects mice from mammary tumorigenesis by limiting the CSC pool. Through genome-scale methylation studies, we identify ISL1 as a direct DNMT1 target, hypermethylated and downregulated in mammary tumours and CSCs. DNMT inhibition or ISL1 expression in breast cancer cells limits CSC population. Altogether, our studies uncover an essential role for DNMT1 in MaSC and CSC maintenance and identify DNMT1-ISL1 axis as a potential therapeutic target for breast cancer treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics*
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation
  • Down-Regulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / cytology
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / growth & development
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / genetics*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • insulin gene enhancer binding protein Isl-1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNMT1 protein, human
  • Dnmt1 protein, mouse