• DNA damage response genes;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC);
  • promoter hypermethylation


Aberrant methylation of promoter CpG islands is a major inactivation mechanism of tumour-related genes that play a crucial role in the progression of silencing in human cancers, including HCC (hepatocellular carcinoma). We have examined the promoter methylation status of five important DNA damage response genes in fresh-frozen HCC tissues and cell lines, as well as the possible correlation between methylation patterns and clinical features of the carcinoma. Promoter methylation status of RASSF1A (Ras association domain family 1), CHFR (checkpoint with forkhead and ring finger domains), GSTP1 (glutathione-S-transferase-pi gene), MGMT [O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase] and hMLH1 (human mutL homologue 1) were examined by the MSP (methylation-specific PCR) in 70 HCC tissues and five HCC cell lines. The mRNA expression levels of these genes were measured by RT—PCR (reverse transcription—PCR). Methylation frequencies of these genes tested in HCC were 54 (78%) for RASSF1A, 30 (43%) for CHFR, 26 (38%) for GSTP1 and 22 (32%) for MGMT. No hypermethylation was detected for hMLH1 in any case of HCC or HCC cell lines. Moreover, promoter hypermethylation of RASSF1A, CHFR and GSTP1 in both HepG2 and SNU398 cells, and hypermethylation of MGMT in Huh7 cells, were detected. Treatment of three cell lines with 5Aza-dC (5-aza-20-deoxycytidine) restored or increased the expression of these genes, implicating aberrant DNA methylation in transcriptional silencing. Hypermethylation of RASSF1A and patient age were significantly associated. CHFR methylation status showed a statistically significant correlation with HCC progression. Methylation of the RASSF1A, CHFR, GSTP1 and MGMT genes seem therefore to play an important role in the pathogenesis of HCC. These epigenetic changes may have prognostic importance for patients with HCC.