J Genet Med.  2009 Jun;6(1):1-7.

DNA Methylation Changes in Human Cancers

  • 1Department of Pathology, Cancer Research Institute and 2nd stage Brain Korea, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Korea. ghkang@snu.ac.kr


Epigenetic changes represented by promoter CpG island hypermethylation and histone modification are an important carcinogenetic mechanism, which is found in virtually all histologic types of human cancer. About 60-70% of human genes harbor CpG islands in their promoters and 5' exonal sequences, and some of them undergo aberrant promoter CpG island hypermethylation and subsequent down- regulation of gene expression. The loss of expression in tumor suppressor or tumor-related genes results in acceleration of tumorigenic processes. In addition to regional CpG island hypermethylation, diffuse genomic hypomethylation represents an important aspect of DNA methylation changes occurring in human cancer cells and contributes to chromosomal instability. These apparently contrasting methylation changes occur not only in human cancer cells, but also in premalignant cells. CpG island hypermethylation has gained attention for not only the tumorigenic mechanistic process, but also its potential utilization as a tumor biomarker. DNA methylation markers are actively investigated for their potential uses as tumor biomarkers for diagnosis of tumors in body fluids, prognostication of cancer patients, or prediction of chemotherapeutic drug response. In this review, these aspects will be discussed in detail.


Cancer; CpG island; DNA methylation; Tumor biomarker
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