The human genome, like many other genomes, harbors highly specific patterns of DNA methylation which have not yet been systematically studied. In a limited investigation on the genes for tumor necrosis factors-α and -β, a surprising interindividual concordance in the patterns of DNA methylation at the nucleotide level has been demonstrated earlier by using the genomic sequencing method on DNA from individuals of very different ethnic origins. Patterns of DNA methylation could perhaps serve as indicators for genetic activities. These activities would not have to be restricted to gene transcription but could relate to other genetic activities in the cell. DNA methylation patterns are known to be cell type-specific. We have now initiated a study of these DNA patterns in human lymphocytes and in human cell lines of different malignant origins. Several of the proto-oncogenes, parts of the genes for tumor necrosis factors-α and -β, the insulin receptor and lamin C have been used as hybridization probes. We have relied to some extent on the documented observation that the methylation patterns at 5′-CCGG-3′ (HpaII/MspI) sequences yield a reflection of patterns at all 5′-CG-3′ sequences. Three main types of patterns have been observed. Some of the probed segments are completely unmethylated; others are fully methylated, most of the areas are partly methylated exhibiting complex patterns at the 5′-CCGG-3′ sites. In different tumor cell lines, different DNA methylation patterns are apparent for the same DNA probes. Comparisons of the methylation patterns in a given DNA segment between DNA from primary normal human lymphocytes and DNA from different tumor cell lines reveal changes in these patterns in several instances.


This research was supported by grants to H. T. and W. D. in the Forschergruppe “Immundysregulation und menschliche Lymphome” of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Di 184/9-1).

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