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Transcript
CANCER AND
THE EPIGENOME
In cancer cells the epigenetic landscape is
highly altered. Hypermethylation of certain
stretches of DNA is the most well-studied
epigenetic modification in cancer, and each
tumor type has its own specific pattern.
Histone modifications also occur, as does
remodeling of chromatin. And disruption of
noncoding RNA sequences, the so-called
“dark genome,” that code for microRNAs also seems to play a role
in how cancer originates
and spreads.
CpG Island
Methyl mark
Protein
complexes
Acetyl mark

3

4
C

1
G
C
CpG Shore

2
EPIGENETIC MARKS IN NORMAL CELLS
A CpG island consists of a stretch of some 300 to 3,000 DNA bases where clusters of cytosine and guanine dinucleotides make up about half the sequence 
1 . More than 60% of these islands are associated
with the promoter regions of genes and are not methylated in genes that are actively transcribed. Located
some 2 kb from these promoter regions are stretches of DNA that are not quite so rich in CpG, known
as CpG shores 
2 . Methylation of these cytosines results in gene inactivation and is associated with
structural changes in chromatin that occur during differentiation and chromosome imprinting in developing embryos. Inactive chromatin consists of DNA tightly wrapped around a core of eight histones whose
projecting tails are modified with various covalent marks 
3 . Protein complexes associate with chromatin
and control gene activation or repression by adding or removing marks such as methyl and acetyl groups to
histones or methyl groups to cytosine bases in the DNA chain 
4.
G
Histone
tail
G
C
DNA
C
G
Histone
C
G
Complex of
8 histones
Accessible
tumor supressor
gene
CpG Island
Nucleosome
IN Cancer
When a CpG island is hypermethylated by the attachment of methyl marks to cytosines in the
promoter region, transcription is halted 
1 . Hypermethylation of a tumor suppressor gene
results in its inactivation 
2 . CpG shores are also hypermethylated in cancer cells resulting in
effects on gene expression 
3 . MicroRNAs (miRNA) are short pieces of RNA that are ubiquitous
in eukaryotic cells. By binding to complementary sites on mRNA they act to silence genes.
Hypermethylation of promoter regions of certain miRNAs involved with growth regulation has
been linked to cancer and metastasis 
4.
RNA

4
miRNA
miRNAs
blocked from
role in growth
regulation
Lost acetyl mark

2
Inaccessible tumor
suppressor gene
Inaccessible
miRNA gene

3
Protein
complexes
LUCY READING-IKKANDA

1
Methylated DNA
binding protein
C
G
DNA Methyl mark
C
G
G
C
C
Methylated
CpG island
G
C
G
03.2011 | The Scientist | the-scientist.com 37