UHRF1 Induces Methylation of the TXNIP Promoter and Down-Regulates Gene Expression in Cervical Cancer

Mol Cells. 2021 Mar 31;44(3):146-159. doi: 10.14348/molcells.2021.0001.


DNA methylation, and consequent down-regulation, of tumour suppressor genes occurs in response to epigenetic stimuli during cancer development. Similarly, human oncoviruses, including human papillomavirus (HPV), up-regulate and augment DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) and histone deacetylase (HDAC) activities, thereby decreasing tumour suppressor genes (TSGs) expression. Ubiquitin-like containing PHD and RING finger domain 1 (UHRF1), an epigenetic regulator of DNA methylation, is overexpressed in HPV-induced cervical cancers. Here, we investigated the role of UHRF1 in cervical cancer by knocking down its expression in HeLa cells using lentiviral-encoded short hairpin (sh)RNA and performing cDNA microarrays. We detected significantly elevated expression of thioredoxin-interacting protein (TXNIP), a known TSG, in UHRF1-knockdown cells, and this gene is hypermethylated in cervical cancer tissue and cell lines, as indicated by whole-genome methylation analysis. Up-regulation of UHRF1 and decreased TXNIP were further detected in cervical cancer by western blot and immunohistochemistry and confirmed by Oncomine database analysis. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation, we identified the inverted CCAAT domain-containing UHRF1-binding site in the TXNIP promoter and demonstrated UHRF1 knockdown decreases UHRF1 promoter binding and enhances TXNIP expression through demethylation of this region. TXNIP promoter CpG methylation was further confirmed in cervical cancer tissue by pyrosequencing and methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction. Critically, down-regulation of UHRF1 by siRNA or UHRF1 antagonist (thymoquinone) induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, and ubiquitin-specific protease 7 (USP7), which stabilises and promotes UHRF1 function, is increased by HPV viral protein E6/E7 overexpression. These results indicate HPV might induce carcinogenesis through UHRF1-mediated TXNIP promoter methylation, thus suggesting a possible link between CpG methylation and cervical cancer.

Keywords: DNA methylation; TXNIP; UHRF1; cervical cancer; epigenetic modulator.