The CpG sites or CG sites are regions of DNA where a cytosine nucleotide is followed by a guanine nucleotide in the linear sequence of bases along its 5' → 3' direction. CpG is shorthand for 5'—C—phosphate—G—3' , that is, cytosine and guanine separated by only one phosphate; phosphate links any two nucleosides together in DNA. The CpG notation is used to distinguish this single-stranded linear sequence from the CG base-pairing of cytosine and guanine for double-stranded sequences. The CpG notation is therefore to be interpreted as the cytosine being 5 prime to the guanine base. CpG should not be confused with GpC, the latter meaning that a guanine is followed by a cytosine in the 5' → 3' direction of a single-stranded sequence.
Cytosines in CpG dinucleotides can be methylated to form 5-methylcytosine. In mammals, methylating the cytosine within a gene can change its expression, a mechanism that is part of a larger field of science studying gene regulation that is called epigenetics. Enzymes that add a methyl group are called DNA methyltransferases.
In mammals, 70% to 80% of CpG cytosines are methylated.
Unmethylated CpG dinucleotide sites can be detected by Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR 9) on plasmacytoid dendritic cells, monocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, and B cells in humans. This is used to detect intracellular viral infection.
CpG dinucleotides have long been observed to occur with a much lower frequency in the sequence of vertebrate genomes than would be expected due to random chance. For example, in the human genome, which has a 42% GC content, a pair of nucleotides consisting of cytosine followed by guanine would be expected to occur 0.21 * 0.21 = 4.41% of the time. The frequency of CpG dinucleotides in human genomes is 1%—less than one-quarter of the expected frequency. It was proposed that the CpG deficiency is due to an increased vulnerability of methylcytosines to spontaneously deaminate to thymine in genomes with CpG cytosine methylation. The total number of CpG sites in humans is approximately 28 million.
CpG islands (or CG islands) are regions with a high frequency of CpG sites. Though objective definitions for CpG islands are limited, the usual formal definition is a region with at least 200 bp, a GC percentage greater than 50%, and an observed-to-expected CpG ratio greater than 60 %[clarification needed]. The "observed-to-expected CpG ratio" can be derived where the observed is calculated as:
and the expected as:
Many genes in mammalian genomes have CpG islands associated with the start of the gene (promoter regions). Because of this, the presence of a CpG island is used to help in the prediction and annotation of genes.
In mammalian genomes, CpG islands are typically 300-3,000 base pairs in length, and have been found in or near approximately 40% of promoters of mammalian genes. About 70% of human promoters have a high CpG content. Given the frequency of GC two-nucleotide sequences, the number of CpG dinucleotides is much lower than would be expected.
A 2002 study revised the rules of CpG island prediction to exclude other GC-rich genomic sequences such as Alu repeats. Based on an extensive search on the complete sequences of human chromosomes 21 and 22, DNA regions greater than 500 bp were found more likely to be the "true" CpG islands associated with the 5' regions of genes if they had a GC content greater than 55%, and an observed-to-expected CpG ratio of 65%.
CpG islands are characterized by CpG dinucleotide content of at least 60% of that which would be statistically expected (~4–6%), whereas the rest of the genome has much lower CpG frequency (~1%), a phenomenon called CG suppression. Unlike CpG sites in the coding region of a gene, in most instances the CpG sites in the CpG islands of promoters are unmethylated if the genes are expressed. This observation led to the speculation that methylation of CpG sites in the promoter of a gene may inhibit gene expression. Methylation, along with histone modification, is central to imprinting. Most of the methylation differences between tissues, or between normal and cancer samples, occur a short distance from the CpG islands (at "CpG island shores") rather than in the islands themselves.
CpG islands typically occur at or near the transcription start site of genes, particularly housekeeping genes, in vertebrates. A C (cytosine) base followed immediately by a G (guanine) base (a CpG) is rare in vertebrate DNA because the cytosines in such an arrangement tend to be methylated. This methylation helps distinguish the newly synthesized DNA strand from the parent strand, which aids in the final stages of DNA proofreading after duplication. However, over time methylated cytosines tend to turn into thymines because of spontaneous deamination. There is a special enzyme in humans (Thymine-DNA glycosylase, or TDG) that specifically replaces T's from T/G mismatches. However, due to the rarity of CpGs, it is theorised to be insufficiently effective in preventing a possibly rapid mutation of the dinucleotides. The existence of CpG islands is usually explained by the existence of selective forces for relatively high CpG content, or low levels of methylation in that genomic area, perhaps having to do with the regulation of gene expression. Recently a study showed that most CpG islands are a result of non-selective forces.
Methylation, silencing, cancer, and aging
CpG islands in promoters
Promoters located at a distance from the transcription start site of a gene also frequently contain CpG islands. An example is the promoter of the DNA repair gene ERCC1, where the CpG island-containing promoter is located about 5,400 nucleotides upstream of the coding region of the ERCC1 gene. CpG islands also occur frequently in promoters for functional noncoding RNAs such as microRNAs.
Methylation of CpG islands stably silences genes
In humans, DNA methylation occurs at the 5 position of the pyrimidine ring of the cytosine residues within CpG sites to form 5-methylcytosines. The presence of multiple methylated CpG sites in CpG islands of promoters causes stable silencing of genes. Silencing of a gene may be initiated by other mechanisms, but this is often followed by methylation of CpG sites in the promoter CpG island to cause the stable silencing of the gene.
Promoter CpG hyper/hypo-methylation in cancer
In cancers, loss of expression of genes occurs about 10 times more frequently by hypermethylation of promoter CpG islands than by mutations. As Vogelstein et al. point out, in a colorectal cancer there are usually about 3 to 6 driver mutations and 33 to 66 hitchhiker or passenger mutations. In contrast, in one study of colon tumors compared to adjacent normal-appearing colonic mucosa, 1,734 CpG islands were heavily methylated in tumors whereas these CpG islands were not methylated in the adjacent mucosa. Half of the CpG islands were in promoters of annotated protein coding genes, suggesting that about 867 genes in a colon tumor have lost expression due to CpG island methylation. A separate study found an average of 1,549 differentially methylated regions (hypermethylated or hypomethylated) in the genomes of six colon cancers (compared to adjacent mucosa), of which 629 were in known promoter regions of genes. A third study found more than 2,000 genes differentially methylated between colon cancers and adjacent mucosa. Using gene set enrichment analysis, 569 out of 938 gene sets were hypermethylated and 369 were hypomethylated in cancers. Hypomethylation of CpG islands in promoters results in overexpression of the genes or gene sets affected.
One 2012 study listed 147 specific genes with colon cancer-associated hypermethylated promoters, along with the frequency with which these hypermethylations were found in colon cancers. At least 10 of those genes had hypermethylated promoters in nearly 100% of colon cancers. They also indicated 11 microRNAs whose promoters were hypermethylated in colon cancers at frequencies between 50% and 100% of cancers. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small endogenous RNAs that pair with sequences in messenger RNAs to direct post-transcriptional repression. On average, each microRNA represses several hundred target genes. Thus microRNAs with hypermethylated promoters may be allowing over-expression of hundreds to thousands of genes in a cancer.
The information above shows that, in cancers, promoter CpG hyper/hypo-methylation of genes and of microRNAs causes loss of expression (or sometimes increased expression) of far more genes than does mutation.
DNA repair genes with hyper/hypo-methylated promoters in cancers
DNA repair genes are frequently repressed in cancers due to hypermethylation of CpG islands within their promoters. In head and neck squamous cell carcinomas at least 15 DNA repair genes have frequently hypermethylated promoters; these genes are XRCC1, MLH3, PMS1, RAD51B, XRCC3, RAD54B, BRCA1, SHFM1, GEN1, FANCE, FAAP20, SPRTN, SETMAR, HUS1, and PER1. About seventeen types of cancer are frequently deficient in one or more DNA repair genes due to hypermethylation of their promoters. As an example, promoter hypermethylation of the DNA repair gene MGMT occurs in 93% of bladder cancers, 88% of stomach cancers, 74% of thyroid cancers, 40%-90% of colorectal cancers and 50% of brain cancers. Promoter hypermethylation of LIG4 occurs in 82% of colorectal cancers. Promoter hypermethylation of NEIL1 occurs in 62% of head and neck cancers and in 42% of non-small-cell lung cancers. Promoter hypermetylation of ATM occurs in 47% of non-small-cell lung cancers. Promoter hypermethylation of MLH1 occurs in 48% of non-small-cell lung cancer squamous cell carcinomas. Promoter hypermethylation of FANCB occurs in 46% of head and neck cancers.
On the other hand, the promoters of two genes, PARP1 and FEN1, were hypomethylated and these genes were over-expressed in numerous cancers. PARP1 and FEN1 are essential genes in the error-prone and mutagenic DNA repair pathway microhomology-mediated end joining. If this pathway is over-expressed the excess mutations it causes can lead to cancer. PARP1 is over-expressed in tyrosine kinase-activated leukemias, in neuroblastoma, in testicular and other germ cell tumors, and in Ewing’s sarcoma, FEN1 is over-expressed in the majority of cancers of the breast, prostate, stomach, neuroblastomas, pancreatic, and lung.
DNA damage appears to be the primary underlying cause of cancer. If accurate DNA repair is deficient, DNA damages tend to accumulate. Such excess DNA damage can increase mutational errors during DNA replication due to error-prone translesion synthesis. Excess DNA damage can also increase epigenetic alterations due to errors during DNA repair. Such mutations and epigenetic alterations can give rise to cancer (see malignant neoplasms). Thus, CpG island hyper/hypo-methylation in the promoters of DNA repair genes are likely central to progression to cancer.
Since age has a strong effect on DNA methylation levels on tens of thousands of CpG sites, one can define a highly accurate biological clock (referred to as epigenetic clock or DNA methylation age) in humans and chimpanzees.
- Jabbari K, Bernardi G (May 2004). "Cytosine methylation and CpG, TpG (CpA) and TpA frequencies". Gene. 333: 143–9. PMID 15177689. doi:10.1016/j.gene.2004.02.043.
- Ramirez-Ortiz ZG, Specht CA, Wang JP, Lee CK, Bartholomeu DC, Gazzinelli RT, Levitz SM (2008). "Toll-like receptor 9-dependent immune activation by unmethylated CpG motifs in Aspergillus fumigatus DNA". Infect Immun. 76 (5): 2123–2129. PMC . PMID 18332208. doi:10.1128/IAI.00047-08.
- Scarano E, Iaccarino M, Grippo P, Parisi E (1967). "The heterogeneity of thymine methyl group origin in DNA pyrimidine isostichs of developing sea urchin embryos". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 57 (5): 1394–400. PMC . PMID 5231746. doi:10.1073/pnas.57.5.1394.
- stevens M, Cheng J, Li D, Xi M, Hong C, Maire C, Ligon K, Hirst M, Marra M, Costello J, Wang T (2013). "Estimating absolute methylation levels at single-CpG resolution from methylation enrichment and restriction enzyme sequencing methods". Genome Research. 23: 1541–1553. PMC . PMID 23804401. doi:10.1101/gr.152231.112.
- Gardiner-Garden M, Frommer M (1987). "CpG islands in vertebrate genomes". Journal of Molecular Biology. 196 (2): 261–282. PMID 3656447. doi:10.1016/0022-2836(87)90689-9.
- Saxonov S, Berg P, Brutlag DL (2006). "A genome-wide analysis of CpG dinucleotides in the human genome distinguishes two distinct classes of promoters". Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 103 (5): 1412–1417. PMC . PMID 16432200. doi:10.1073/pnas.0510310103.
- Hartl DL, Jones EW (2005). Genetics: Analysis of Genes and Genomes (6th ed.). Missisauga: Jones & Bartlett, Canada. p. 477. ISBN 0-7637-1511-5.
- Fatemi M, Pao MM, Jeong S, Gal-Yam EN, Egger G, Weisenberger DJ, Jones PA (2005). "Footprinting of mammalian promoters: use of a CpG DNA methyltransferase revealing nucleosome positions at a single molecule level". Nucleic Acids Res. 33 (20): e176. PMC . PMID 16314307. doi:10.1093/nar/gni180.
- Takai D, Jones PA (2002). "Comprehensive analysis of CpG islands in human chromosomes 21 and 22.". Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 99 (6): 3740–5. PMC . PMID 11891299. doi:10.1073/pnas.052410099.
- Feil R, Berger F (2007). "Convergent evolution of genomic imprinting in plants and mammals". Trends Genet. 23 (4): 192–199. PMID 17316885. doi:10.1016/j.tig.2007.02.004.
- Irizarry RA, Ladd-Acosta C, Wen B, Wu Z, Montano C, Onyango P, Cui H, Gabo K, Rongione M, Webster M, Ji H, Potash JB, Sabunciyan S, Feinberg AP (2009). "The human colon cancer methylome shows similar hypo- and hypermethylation at conserved tissue-specific CpG island shores". Nature Genetics. 41 (2): 178–186. PMC . PMID 19151715. doi:10.1038/ng.298.
- Cohen N, Kenigsberg E, Tanay A (2011). "Primate CpG Islands Are Maintained by Heterogeneous Evolutionary Regimes Involving Minimal Selection". Cell. 145 (5): 773–786. PMID 21620139. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2011.04.024.
- Saxonov S, Berg P, Brutlag DL (2006). "A genome-wide analysis of CpG dinucleotides in the human genome distinguishes two distinct classes of promoters". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103 (5): 1412–7. PMC . PMID 16432200. doi:10.1073/pnas.0510310103.
- Deaton AM, Bird A (2011). "CpG islands and the regulation of transcription". Genes Dev. 25 (10): 1010–22. PMC . PMID 21576262. doi:10.1101/gad.2037511.
- Chen HY, Shao CJ, Chen FR, Kwan AL, Chen ZP (2010). "Role of ERCC1 promoter hypermethylation in drug resistance to cisplatin in human gliomas". Int. J. Cancer. 126 (8): 1944–54. PMID 19626585. doi:10.1002/ijc.24772.
- Kaur S, Lotsari-Salomaa JE, Seppänen-Kaijansinkko R, Peltomäki P (2016). "MicroRNA Methylation in Colorectal Cancer". Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 937: 109–22. PMID 27573897. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-42059-2_6.
- Bird A (2002). "DNA methylation patterns and epigenetic memory". Genes Dev. 16 (1): 6–21. PMID 11782440. doi:10.1101/gad.947102.
- Vogelstein B, Papadopoulos N, Velculescu VE, Zhou S, Diaz LA, Kinzler KW (2013). "Cancer genome landscapes". Science. 339 (6127): 1546–58. PMC . PMID 23539594. doi:10.1126/science.1235122.
- Illingworth RS, Gruenewald-Schneider U, Webb S, Kerr AR, James KD, Turner DJ, Smith C, Harrison DJ, Andrews R, Bird AP (2010). "Orphan CpG islands identify numerous conserved promoters in the mammalian genome". PLoS Genet. 6 (9): e1001134. PMC . PMID 20885785. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001134.
- Wei J, Li G, Dang S, Zhou Y, Zeng K, Liu M (2016). "Discovery and Validation of Hypermethylated Markers for Colorectal Cancer". Dis. Markers. 2016: 2192853. PMC . PMID 27493446. doi:10.1155/2016/2192853.
- Beggs AD, Jones A, El-Bahrawy M, El-Bahwary M, Abulafi M, Hodgson SV, Tomlinson IP (2013). "Whole-genome methylation analysis of benign and malignant colorectal tumours". J. Pathol. 229 (5): 697–704. PMC . PMID 23096130. doi:10.1002/path.4132.
- Schnekenburger M, Diederich M (2012). "Epigenetics Offer New Horizons for Colorectal Cancer Prevention". Curr Colorectal Cancer Rep. 8 (1): 66–81. PMC . PMID 22389639. doi:10.1007/s11888-011-0116-z.
- Friedman RC, Farh KK, Burge CB, Bartel DP (2009). "Most mammalian mRNAs are conserved targets of microRNAs". Genome Res. 19 (1): 92–105. PMC . PMID 18955434. doi:10.1101/gr.082701.108.
- Rieke DT, Ochsenreither S, Klinghammer K, Seiwert TY, Klauschen F, Tinhofer I, Keilholz U (2016). "Methylation of RAD51B, XRCC3 and other homologous recombination genes is associated with expression of immune checkpoints and an inflammatory signature in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, lung and cervix". Oncotarget. PMID 27683114. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.12211.
- Carol Bernstein and Harris Bernstein (2015). Epigenetic Reduction of DNA Repair in Progression to Cancer, Advances in DNA Repair, Prof. Clark Chen (Ed.), ISBN 978-953-51-2209-8, InTech, Available from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/advances-in-dna-repair/epigenetic-reduction-of-dna-repair-in-progression-to-cancer
- Jin B, Robertson KD (2013). "DNA methyltransferases, DNA damage repair, and cancer". Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 754: 3–29. PMC . PMID 22956494. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9967-2_1.
- Muvarak N, Kelley S, Robert C, Baer MR, Perrotti D, Gambacorti-Passerini C, Civin C, Scheibner K, Rassool FV (2015). "c-MYC Generates Repair Errors via Increased Transcription of Alternative-NHEJ Factors, LIG3 and PARP1, in Tyrosine Kinase-Activated Leukemias". Mol. Cancer Res. 13 (4): 699–712. PMC . PMID 25828893. doi:10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-14-0422.
- Newman EA, Lu F, Bashllari D, Wang L, Opipari AW, Castle VP (2015). "Alternative NHEJ Pathway Components Are Therapeutic Targets in High-Risk Neuroblastoma". Mol. Cancer Res. 13 (3): 470–82. PMID 25563294. doi:10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-14-0337.
- Mego M, Cierna Z, Svetlovska D, Macak D, Machalekova K, Miskovska V, Chovanec M, Usakova V, Obertova J, Babal P, Mardiak J (2013). "PARP expression in germ cell tumours". J. Clin. Pathol. 66 (7): 607–12. PMID 23486608. doi:10.1136/jclinpath-2012-201088.
- Newman RE, Soldatenkov VA, Dritschilo A, Notario V (2002). "Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase turnover alterations do not contribute to PARP overexpression in Ewing's sarcoma cells". Oncol. Rep. 9 (3): 529–32. PMID 11956622. doi:10.3892/or.9.3.529.
- Singh P, Yang M, Dai H, Yu D, Huang Q, Tan W, Kernstine KH, Lin D, Shen B (2008). "Overexpression and hypomethylation of flap endonuclease 1 gene in breast and other cancers". Mol. Cancer Res. 6 (11): 1710–7. PMC . PMID 19010819. doi:10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-08-0269.
- Lam JS, Seligson DB, Yu H, Li A, Eeva M, Pantuck AJ, Zeng G, Horvath S, Belldegrun AS (2006). "Flap endonuclease 1 is overexpressed in prostate cancer and is associated with a high Gleason score". BJU Int. 98 (2): 445–51. PMID 16879693. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2006.06224.x.
- Kim JM, Sohn HY, Yoon SY, Oh JH, Yang JO, Kim JH, Song KS, Rho SM, Yoo HS, Yoo HS, Kim YS, Kim JG, Kim NS (2005). "Identification of gastric cancer-related genes using a cDNA microarray containing novel expressed sequence tags expressed in gastric cancer cells". Clin. Cancer Res. 11 (2 Pt 1): 473–82. PMID 15701830.
- Wang K, Xie C, Chen D (2014). "Flap endonuclease 1 is a promising candidate biomarker in gastric cancer and is involved in cell proliferation and apoptosis". Int. J. Mol. Med. 33 (5): 1268–74. PMID 24590400. doi:10.3892/ijmm.2014.1682.
- Krause A, Combaret V, Iacono I, Lacroix B, Compagnon C, Bergeron C, Valsesia-Wittmann S, Leissner P, Mougin B, Puisieux A (2005). "Genome-wide analysis of gene expression in neuroblastomas detected by mass screening". Cancer Lett. 225 (1): 111–20. PMID 15922863. doi:10.1016/j.canlet.2004.10.035.
- Iacobuzio-Donahue CA, Maitra A, Olsen M, Lowe AW, van Heek NT, Rosty C, Walter K, Sato N, Parker A, Ashfaq R, Jaffee E, Ryu B, Jones J, Eshleman JR, Yeo CJ, Cameron JL, Kern SE, Hruban RH, Brown PO, Goggins M (2003). "Exploration of global gene expression patterns in pancreatic adenocarcinoma using cDNA microarrays". Am. J. Pathol. 162 (4): 1151–62. PMC . PMID 12651607. doi:10.1016/S0002-9440(10)63911-9.
- Nikolova T, Christmann M, Kaina B (2009). "FEN1 is overexpressed in testis, lung and brain tumors". Anticancer Res. 29 (7): 2453–9. PMID 19596913.
- Kastan MB (2008). "DNA damage responses: mechanisms and roles in human disease: 2007 G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award Lecture". Mol. Cancer Res. 6 (4): 517–24. PMID 18403632. doi:10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-08-0020.
- Bernstein, C; Prasad, AR; Nfonsam, V; Bernstein, H. (2013). "Chapter 16: DNA Damage, DNA Repair and Cancer". In Chen, Clark. New Research Directions in DNA Repair,. p. 413. ISBN 978-953-51-1114-6.
- O'Hagan HM, Mohammad HP, Baylin SB (2008). "Double strand breaks can initiate gene silencing and SIRT1-dependent onset of DNA methylation in an exogenous promoter CpG island". PLoS Genetics. 4 (8): e1000155. PMC . PMID 18704159. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000155.
- Cuozzo C, Porcellini A, Angrisano T, et al. (July 2007). "DNA damage, homology-directed repair, and DNA methylation". PLoS Genetics. 3 (7): e110. PMC . PMID 17616978. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030110.
- Horvath S (2013). "DNA methylation age of human tissues and cell types". Genome Biology. 14 (10): R115. PMC . PMID 24138928. doi:10.1186/gb-2013-14-10-r115.