Inactivation of p16ink4A and other tumor suppressor genes has been associated with promoter region hypermethylation in neoplasia. However, direct proof for aberrant DNA methylation as an independent event for loss of gene function has been difficult to obtain. We addressed this question in the colon carcinoma cell line HCT116, which contains one allele of p16ink4A with a coding region frameshift mutation and one wild-type allele. Neither allele contains a mutation in the proximal promoter region. The promoter of the wild-type allele, but not the mutant allele, is hypermethylated, and only the mutant allele is expressed. Transcription from the methylated/wild-type allele was restored after cell treatment with the demethylating agent 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine. Thus, in neoplastic cells, stable allele-specific loss of transcription may arise from aberrant methylation of a nonmutated promoter region, identifying hypermethylation as a direct mechanism for tumor suppressor gene inactivation.
Supported by NIH Grants CA43318 and CA54396. S. K. M. is supported by The Academy of Finland, and J. G. H. is a V Foundation Scholar.