Stabilization of DNA methyltransferase levels and CpG island hypermethylation precede SV40-induced immortalization of human fibroblasts

P. M. Vertino, J. P. Issa, O. M. Pereira-Smith, S. B. Baylin

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67 Scopus citations


De novo methylation of normally unmethylated CpG islands and increased expression of DNA (cytosine-5-)-methyltransferase (DNA MTase) are common characteristics of immortalized cell lines and human tumors. To examine the acquisition of these properties with respect to cellular immortalization, we studied CpG island methylation and DNA MTase expression in aging normal human fibroblasts and their SV40-infected preimmortal (precrisis) and immortal (postcrisis) derivatives. The levels of DNA MTase enzyme activity decreased by 50% as normal fibroblasts were cultured to senescence. By contrast, DNA MTase activity did not decrease in SV40-infected pre- or postcrisis cells but remained similar to that of young fibroblasts and 2-4-fold higher than that of senescent fibroblasts. DNA MTase mRNA levels paralleled those of enzyme activity. Several loci were examined to determine the relationship between the dynamics of DNA MTase expression and the appearance of de novo CpG island methylation. Ten CpG island loci examined were unmethylated in normal young fibroblasts. By contrast, four of these loci (the CALC1, MyoD, and IGF-2 genes on chromosome 11p and the estrogen receptor gene on chromosome 6q) were de novo methylated in fully immortalized, postcrisis cells. Two of these four were actually methylated in extended life span precrisis cells, and one, the estrogen receptor locus, exhibited de novo methylation with aging in normal fibroblasts. The data indicate that an ability to maintain DNA MTase levels is acquired with SV40-induced escape from senescence. Furthermore, aberrant CpG island methylation can be established prior to immortalization, either as a function of normal aging or in response to SV40-induced escape from senescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1395-1402
Number of pages8
JournalCell Growth and Differentiation
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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