Methylation of tumor suppressor genes p16(INK4a), p27(Kip1) and E-cadherin in carcinogenesis

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Not only genomic mutations but also abnormal epigenetic methylation can significantly contribute to gene silencing and carcinogenesis. Methylation is particularly often observed in the CpG islands of the promoter regions in the regulatory genes. However, there are considerable differences in the incidence of methylation e.g. in the tumor suppressor genes, so that aberrant methylation of p16(INK4a) is relatively frequently observed in tumors, p27(Kip1) methylation is rare, and the incidence of E-cadherin methylation occurs at an intermediate rate. Although true genomic defects are generally much less common than methylation, parallel tendencies for both are often observed, probably reflecting the different levels of evolutionary advantage for tumor cells from inactivation of different genes. This also suggests that loss of p27 expression could be more a consequence of carcinogenesis, while lost p16 expression is a true oncogenic event. Due to the role of p27 in maintaining cellular quiescence, however, loss of its expression can still be a useful partial indicator of the aggressiveness of cancer. Loss of E-cadherin or its catenin partners of cellular adhesion will result in increasing invasiveness and metastatic potential of neoplastic cells but, because of several alternative routes to the same effect, incidence of lost expression for one component gene like E-cadherin does not need to be very high. Similarly, there must be a relatively high number of genes with modest or low incidence of aberrant silencing by methylation, to reflect multiple alternatives for the multistep process of carcinogenesis. Nevertheless, methylation of different genes also shows characteristic differences between different cancer and tumor types, and the epigenetic methylation patterns therefore have considerable diagnostic and prognostic potential. Realising this potential requires efficient methods for profiling the status of methylation. Such profiling methods have only recently become available and are still under relatively rapid development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-12
Number of pages9
JournalOral Oncology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


  • E-cadherin
  • Methylation
  • p16(INK4a)
  • p27(Kip1)


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