The 5.8S rRNA of normal tissues contains a partially 2′-O-methylated uridylic acid residue which is methylated in the cytoplasm and undermethylated in rapidly growing neoplastic tissues (R. N. Nazar, T. O. Sitz, and K. D. Somers, J. Mol. Biol., 142: 117–121, 1980). This difference in methylation was further characterized by examining the effect of cell age or cell culture passage number on the level of methylation of 5.8S RNAs from normal and malignant cell lines and simultaneous changes in intracellular pools of S-adenosylmethionine and S-adenosylhomocysteine. The results indicate that the level of methylation decreases continuously with cell culture passage number as the cells become aneuploid, transformed, or tumorigenic, but there is no direct correlation with the intracellular pools of S-adenosylmethionine or S-adenosylhomocysteine. In contrast, there is a dramatic but inverse increase in the S-adenosylmethionine:S-adenosylhomocysteine ratio which correlates with the decreasing levels of 2′-O-methylation. The significance of these changes in substrate levels to the hypomethylation of 5.8S and other RNAs during oncogenesis is discussed.

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This work was supported by NIH Grant CA23632 and by Medical Research Council of Canada Grant MA-6666.

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