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The DNA methylation system in proliferating and differentiated cells


The human melanoma cell line M21 can be induced to differentiate into oligodendrocyte-like cells with concommitant cessation of cell division. Cytosine-arabinoside, 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine, hydroxyurea, aphidicolin, and phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate were found to be potent differentiation inducers. We have analyzed the changes of methylation of DNA cytosines that occur after treatment of M21 cells with these compounds. Although DNA methylation levels remain unchanged in the presence of aphidicolin and phorbol ester, 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine-induced differentiation of these cells results in a 40% DNA demethylation. On the other hand, hydroxyurea and cytosinearabinoside treatment causes DNA hypermethylation, which, in the case of the cytidine analogue is of only transient nature. These results show that the differentiation of human melanoma cells can be accompanied by variable changes of DNA methylation levels.

In another set of experiments, the DNA methylation levels have been analyzed during cytosine-arabinoside-induced differentiation of human K562 erythroleukemia cells. In this system, a transient DNA demethylation precedes the establishment of the differentiated phenotype. Since DNA replication is inhibited, this demethylation cannot be explained by inhibition of the maintenance activity of DNA methyltransferase, but is more likely caused by an active excision of 5-methylcytosine from DNA.

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Correspondence to Gerd P. Pfeifer.

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Pfeifer, G.P., Steigerwald, S.D. & Grünwald, S. The DNA methylation system in proliferating and differentiated cells. Cell Biophysics 15, 79–86 (1989).

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Index Entries

  • DNA methylation
  • demethylation
  • 5-methylcytosine
  • differentiation
  • melanoma cells
  • K562 cells