Suppression of metallothionein gene expression in a rat hepatoma because of promoter-specific DNA methylation

Kalpana Ghoshal, Sarmila Majumder, Zhiling Li, Xiaocheng Dong, Samson T. Jacob

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

73 Scopus citations


Metallothionein I can be induced in response to a variety of agents that include heavy metals and oxidative stress. On the contrary, its induction was suppressed in some lymphoid-derived cancer cells. The mechanism of this repression has not been elucidated. Here, we show silencing of MT-I gene in a solid transplanted rat tumor as a result of promoter methylation at all the 21 CpG dinucleotides that span the region from -225 bp to +1 bp. By contrast, none of these CpG dinucleotides were methylated in the livers from the rats bearing the tumor, which was consistent with the efficient induction of the gene in this tissue by zinc sulfate. Genomic footprinting revealed lack of access of the transcriptional activators to the respective cis-acting elements of the methylated MT-I promoter in the hepatoma. The absence of footprinting was not due to inactivation of the metal regulatory transcription factor MTF-1, because it was highly active in the hepatoma. Treatment of the hepatoma bearing rats with 5-azacytidine, a demethylating agent, induced basal as well as heavy metal-activated MT-I gene expression in the hepatoma, implying that methylation was indeed responsible for silencing the gene. Bisulfite genomic sequencing showed significant (>90%) demethylation of CpG dinucleotides spanning MT-I promoter in the hepatoma following treatment with 5-AzaC. The hypermethylation of MT-I promoter was probably caused by significantly higher (as much as 7-fold) level of DNA methyl transferase activity as well as enhanced expression of its gene in the hepatoma relative to the host liver. These data elucidated for the first time the molecular mechanism for the silencing of a highly inducible gene in a solid tumor transplanted in an animal, as compared with the robust induction in the corresponding parental tissue and have discussed the probable reasons for the suppression of this gene in some tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-547
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 7 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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