CANCER RESEARCH 63, 4984-4989, August 15, 2003
Methylation-associated silencing of tumor suppressor genes is recognized as being a molecular hallmark of human cancer. Unlike genetic alterations, changes in DNA methylation are potentially reversible. This possibility has attracted considerable attention from a therapeutics standpoint. Nucleoside-analogue inhibitors of DNA methyltransferases, such as 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine, are able to demethylate DNA and restore silenced gene expression. Unfortunately, the clinical utility of these compounds hasnot yet been fully realized, mainly because of their side effects. A few non-nucleoside inhibitors of DNA methyltransferases have been reported, including the anti-arrhythmia drug procainamide. Following this need to find new demethylating agents, we have tested the potential use of procaine, an anesthetis drug related to procainamide. Using the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line, we have found that procaine is a DNA-demethylating agent that produces a 40% reduction in 5-methylcytosine DNA content as determined by high-performance capillary electrophoresis or total DNA enzyme digestion. Procaine can also demethylate densely hypermethylated CpG islands, such as those located in the promoter region of the RARβ2 gene, restoring gene expression of epigenetically silenced genes. This property may be explained by our finding that procaine binds to CpG-enriched DNA. Finally, procaine also has growth-inhibitory effects in these cancer cells, causing mitotis arrest. Thus, procaine is a promising candidate agent for future cancer therapies based on epigenetics.
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