The epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) is expressed at high levels on the surface of most carcinoma cells. SiRNA silencing of EpCAM expression leads to reduced metastatic potential of tumor cells demonstrating its importance in oncogenesis and tumor progression. However, siRNA therapy requires either sequential delivery or integration into the host cell genome. Hence we set out to explore a more definite form to influence EpCAM gene expression. The mechanisms underlying the transcriptional activation of the EpCAM gene, both in normal epithelial tissue as well as in carcinogenesis, are poorly understood. We show that DNA methylation plays a crucial role in EpCAM expression, and moreover, active silencing of endogenous EpCAM via methylation of the EpCAM promoter results in a persistent downregulation of EpCAM expression. In a panel of carcinoma derived cell lines, bisulfite analyses showed a correlation between the methylation status of the EpCAM promoter and EpCAM expression. Treatment of EpCAM-negative cell lines with a demethylating agent induced EpCAM expression, both on mRNA and protein level, and caused upregulation of EpCAM expression in an EpCAM-positive cell line. After delivery of the DNA methyltransferase M.SssI into EpCAM-positive ovarian carcinoma cells, methylation of the EpCAM promoter resulted in silencing of EpCAM expression. SiRNA-mediated silencing remained for 4 days, after which EpCAM re-expression increased in time, while M.SssI-mediated downregulation of EpCAM maintained through successive cell divisions as the repression persisted for at least 17 days. This is the first study showing that active DNA methylation leads to sustained silencing of endogenous EpCAM expression.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research