Concordant epigenetic silencing of transforming growth factor-β signaling pathway genes occurs early in breast carcinogenesis

Rebecca A. Hinshelwood, Lily I. Huschtscha, John Melki, Clare Stirzaker, Andrea Abdipranoto, Bryce Vissel, Timothy Ravasi, Christine A. Wells, David A. Hume, Roger R. Reddel, Susan J. Clark*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC) grown under standard cell culture conditions enter a growth phase referred to as selection, but a subpopulation is able to escape from arrest and continue to proliferate. These cells, called post-selection or variant HMECs, may be derived from progenitor cells found in normal mammary epithelium that subsequently acquire premalignant lesions, including p16INK4A promoter hypermethylation. Epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes through DNA methylation and histone modification is an early event in tumorigenesis. A major challenge is to find genes or gene pathways that are commonly silenced to provide early epigenetic diagnostic and therapeutic cancer targets. To identify very early epigenetic events that occur in breast cancer, we used microarrays to screen for gene pathways that were suppressed in post-selection HMECs but reactivated after treatment with the demethylation agent 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine. We found that several members of the transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) signaling pathway were consistently down-regulated in the post-selection HMEC populations, and this was associated with a marked decrease in Smad4 nuclear staining. Gene suppression was not associated with DNA methylation but with chromatin remodeling, involving a decrease in histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation and an increase in histone H3 lysine 9 dimethylation and deacetylation. These results show for the first time that TGF-β2, its receptors TGF-βR1 and TGF-βR2, and activator thrombospondin-1 are concordantly suppressed early in breast carcinogenesis by histone modifications and indicate that the TGF-β signaling pathway is a novel target for gene activation by epigenetic therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11517-11527
Number of pages11
JournalCancer research
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 15 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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