Epigenetic Field for Cancerization

  • Published : 2007.03.31


Epigenetic alterations, represented by aberrant DNA methylation, are deeply involved in human cancers. In gastric cancers, tumor-suppressor genes are inactivated more frequently by promoter methylation than by mutations. We recently showed that H. pylori infection, a potent gastric carcinogenic factor, induces methylation of specific genes in the gastric mucosae. When the methylation levels were analyzed in the gastric mucosae of healthy volunteers, cases with a single gastric cancer, and cases with multiple gastric cancers, who have increasing levels of risks for gastric cancers, there was a significant increasing trend in the methylation levels among the individuals without current H. pylori infection. This finding unequivocally showed the presence of an epigenetic field for cancerization. The degree of the field defect was measured more conveniently using methylation levels of marker genes than using those of tumor-suppressor genes. The presence of an epigenetic field for cancerization has been indicated for liver, colon, Barrett's esophageal, lung, breast, and renal cancers. Since decreased transcription is involved in the specificity of methylated genes, it is likely that specific genes are methylated according to carcinogenic factors. These findings emphasize the usefulness of DNA methylation as a marker for past exposure to carcinogens and future risk of cancer development.


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