Epigenetic remodelling of DNA in cancer.

A. A. Lettini, M. Guidoboni, E. Fonsatti, L. Anzalone, E. Cortini, M. Maio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


DNA methylation regulates gene expression in normal cells. This epigenetic mechanism acts in at least two different ways: at global genomic level by targeting repetitive sequences distributed among the whole genome (LINEs, SINEs, satellite DNA, transposons) and at local level by targeting CpG islands in promoter regions. Both epigenetic mechanisms are involved in the carcinogenetic process; however, different evidences suggest that promoter hypermethylation occurring in genes involved in cell-cycle regulation, DNA repair, cell signalling, transcription and apoptosis likely plays a prominent role. Opposite to genetic defects DNA hypermethylation is a reversible process that can be handled through "epigenetic drugs" in a wide spectrum of tumors. Along this line, recent data have demonstrated the ability of DNA hypomethylating agents to up-regulate and/or induce the expression of genes silenced by promoter hypermethylation in cancer. Particularly relevant seems the ability of these drugs to modulate the expression of genes coding for molecules crucial for tumor immunogenicity and immune recognition of neoplastic cells by host's immune system, such as Cancer Testis Antigens, HLA class I molecules, costimulatory molecules. These evidences, coupled to the well-known cytotoxic, pro-apoptotic, and differentiating activities of epigenetic drugs, encourage to design and to develop new therapeutic strategies able to circumvent the immune escape of neoplastic cells and to potentiate the efficacy of immunotherapy in cancer patients. This review will provide an update on the most recent information about aberrant DNA methylation in cancer and on innovative therapeutic strategies of "epigenetic remodelling" of human malignancies, with particular attention to the immunologic and immunotherapeutic potential of this approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1413-1424
Number of pages12
JournalHistology and Histopathology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology
  • Cell Biology


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