Agglomerates of aberrant DNA methylation are associated with toxicant-induced malignant transformation

Paul L. Severson, Erik J. Tokar, Lukas Vrba, Michael P. Waalkes, Bernard W. Futscher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Epigenetic dysfunction is a known contributor in carcinogenesis, and is emerging as a mechanism involved in toxicantinduced malignant transformation for environmental carcinogens such as arsenicals or cadmium. In addition to aberrant DNA methylation of single genes, another manifestation of epigenetic dysfunction in cancer is agglomerative DNA methylation, which can participate in long-range epigenetic silencing that targets many neighboring genes and has been shown to occur in several types of clinical cancers. Using in vitro model systems of toxicant-induced malignant transformation, we found hundreds of aberrant DNA methylation events that emerge during malignant transformation, some of which occur in an agglomerative fashion. In an arsenite-transformed prostate epithelial cell line, the protocadherin (PC DH), HOXC and HOXD gene family clusters are targeted for agglomerative DNA methylation. The agglomerative DNA methylation changes induced by arsenicals appear to be common and clinically relevant events, since they occur in other human cancer cell lines and models of malignant transformation, as well as clinical cancer specimens. Aberrant DNA methylation in general occurred more often within histone H3 lysine-27 trimethylation stem cell domains. We found a striking association between enrichment of histone H3 lysine-9 trimethylation stem cell domains and toxicant-induced agglomerative DNA methylation, suggesting these epigenetic modifications may become aberrantly linked during malignant transformation. In summary, we found an association between toxicant-induced malignant transformation and agglomerative DNA methylation, which lends further support to the hypothesis that epigenetic dysfunction plays an important role in toxicant-induced malignant transformation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1238-1248
Number of pages11
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Agglomerative DNA methylation
  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • H3K27me3
  • H3K9me3
  • Long-range epigenetic silencing
  • Malignant transformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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