Analysis of 45S rDNA promoter methylation and expression of rRNA transcripts in breast cancer
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Ribosome biogenesis has a central role in cell growth and proliferation that is usually disrupted in tumor cells by the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes and activation of oncogenes. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene expression is one of the most important factors regulating ribosome production, which is controlled by CG rich 45S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) promoter. The effect of DNA methylation at 45S rDNA promoter on rRNA gene expression is a subject of controversy in the literature. In this thesis, a 434 bp region (-380 bp to +54 bp) spanning both upstream control element (UCE) and core promoter located in 45S rDNA promoter containing 54 CpGs was analysed in breast cancer. We also analysed the related rRNA expression levels in the same samples in order to clarify the role of 45S rDNA promoter methylation on rRNA gene expression. 45S rDNA promoter region was highly methylated (74%-96%) in all cell lines including non-tumorigenic breast cell line (MCF10A). Even though 45S rDNA promoter region of breast cancer cell lines are extensively methylated, rRNAs (18S, 28S, 5.8S and 45S ETS) were expressed independent of the heavy methylation. Expression levels of rRNAs are assessed either using housekeeping genes (ACTB, TBP, ACTB&TBP) or geometric mean of rRNAs (GM-rRNAs). We propose GM-rRNA normalization as a new method to identify relative expression differences between rRNA transcripts. Epigenetic drugs 5-Aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-AZA) and Trichostatin A (TSA) were used to determine the effect of DNA methylation and histone acetylation on rRNA expression. Demethylation with 5-AZA resulted in an unexpected decrease in the expression of all rRNA. TSA treatment did not lead to any significant expression difference in cell lines. To better evaluate the effect of DNA methylation on the expression of rRNA transcripts we analysed the methylation status of 19 breast tumor and matched normal frozen tissue samples. The results showed that majority of the tumors (13/19) have significantly higher methylation levels than their normal pairs. Using the GM-rRNA as reference helped us to determine significant differences in the proportionate expression of rRNAs in these tissue samples. The 5.8S rRNA ratio was significantly lower whereas the 18S rRNA ratio was significantly higher in breast tumor samples. Furthermore, the 45S rDNA promoter methylation levels in normal breast tissue samples were negatively correlated with the18S rRNA ratio but this correlation was disrupted in breast tumors. Similarly, rRNA transcript levels were significantly correlated with each other in normal samples, were lost in tumor samples. It is clear that, there is a dysregulation both in rDNA methylation levels and spliced rRNA transcripts specific to breast tumor samples, which was not observed in normal breast tissues. rRNA gene expression is controlled by mechanisms other than promoter DNA methylation. Tumorigenesis may cause disruption of many control mechanisms that are required for proper rRNA expression, splicing and maturation, resulting in a dysregulation of the correlation between spliced rRNA expression levels, which should be investigated further.