Gene-Specific Methylation Analysis in Thymomas of Patients with Myasthenia Gravis

Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Dec 16;17(12):2121. doi: 10.3390/ijms17122121.


Thymomas are uncommon neoplasms that arise from epithelial cells of the thymus and are often associated with myasthenia gravis (MG), an autoimmune disease characterized by autoantibodies directed to different targets at the neuromuscular junction. Little is known, however, concerning epigenetic changes occurring in thymomas from MG individuals. To further address this issue, we analyzed DNA methylation levels of genes involved in one-carbon metabolism (MTHFR) and DNA methylation (DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B) in blood, tumor tissue, and healthy thymic epithelial cells from MG patients that underwent a surgical resection of a thymic neoplasm. For the analyses we applied the methylation-sensitive high-resolution melting technique. Both MTHFR and DNMT3A promoters showed significantly higher methylation in tumor tissue with respect to blood, and MTHFR also showed significantly higher methylation levels in tumor tissue respect to healthy adjacent thymic epithelial cells. Both DNMT1 and DNMT3B promoter regions were mostly hypomethylated in all the investigated tissues. The present study suggests that MTHFR methylation is increased in thymomas obtained from MG patients; furthermore, some degrees of methylation of the DNMT3A gene were observed in thymic tissue with respect to blood.

Keywords: DNA methylation; DNMT3A; MTHFR; cancer; epigenetics; myasthenia gravis; thymoma.

MeSH terms

  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3B
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2) / genetics*
  • Myasthenia Gravis / genetics*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • Thymoma / genetics*
  • Thymus Gland / pathology
  • Thymus Neoplasms / genetics*


  • DNMT3A protein, human
  • MTHFR protein, human
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2)
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • DNMT1 protein, human