To determine whether loss of imprinting in cancer might be reversed by altering DNA methylation, we treated tumor cells with 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine, a specific inhibitor of cytosine DNA methyltransferase. Treated cells showed several significant and reproducible changes. (a) Equal expression of maternal and paternal alleles of insulin-like growth factor 2 switched to predominant expression of a single parental allele. (b) H19 expression was reactivated. (c) Biallelic H19 expression switched to monoallelic expression. (d) Biallelic methylation of H19 switched to preferential allelic methylation. These results imply that abnormally imprinted cells are susceptible to epigenetic modification and that the effect of 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine on tumor cells with loss of imprinting is not random but specific to one allele.

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This work was supported by NIH Grant CA65145.

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