Alterations of DNA methylation by glutathione depletion

Cancer Lett. 1997 Dec 9;120(2):149-56. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3835(97)00300-5.


One of the most consistent findings in cancer cells is an overall decrease of 5-methylcytosine content in DNA. The causes that lead to this alteration are not known. We have shown in a recent study that the methyl-donor, methionine (Met), can easily be depleted and that O- and S-methylation can be impaired in response to glutathione (GSH) depletion. This is because mammalian cells are capable of resynthesizing GSH after GSH is depleted, and GSH turnover occurs at the expense of Met. An extensive utilization of Met for the resynthesis of GSH causes Met depletion and impairment in methylation. In the present study we now demonstrate that GSH depletion has a significant impact on DNA methylation. An i.p. dose of a model GSH-depleting hepatotoxin, bromobenzene (BB), caused a progressive impairment in genomic DNA methylation in the Syrian hamster. The administration of a single i.p. dose of Met labeled with [14CH3]Met to BB-treated hamsters at either 1, 3, 5.5 or 9 h after BB resulted in an increase of methyl-group incorporation into liver genomic DNA at 24 h after BB. With respect to the time points chosen for Met administration, methyl-group incorporation found in the BB + Met groups were 1-, 2-, 4- and 12-fold of the controls that received only Met. We further employed an in vitro methylation assay using specific bacterial SssI CpG methylase as the catalyzing enzyme to demonstrate that BB caused a progressive increase of unmethylated CpG sites in genomic DNA. Interestingly, the time response curve of global DNA methylation in vitro showed an identical pattern to that observed in the in vivo experiment. The results provide strong evidence that GSH-depleting agents significantly impair cytosine methylation. Thus, alterations in gene expression could result from a high dose and/or prolonged exposure to GSH-depleting agents, e.g. medications, chemotherapeutic agents and environmental toxins.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bromobenzenes / pharmacology
  • Cricetinae
  • Cytosine / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation* / drug effects
  • DNA-Cytosine Methylases / metabolism
  • Glutathione Transferase / physiology*
  • Male
  • Methionine / pharmacology
  • Methionine / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Bromobenzenes
  • Cytosine
  • Methionine
  • bromobenzene
  • DNA modification methylase SssI
  • DNA-Cytosine Methylases
  • Glutathione Transferase