p16 and p15, 2 inhibitors of cyclin-dependent kinases, are frequently hypermethylated in hematologic neoplasias. Decitabine, or 5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine, reverts hypermethylation of these genes in vitro, and low-dose decitabine treatment improves cytopenias and blast excess in ∼50% of patients with high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). We examined p15and p16 methylation status in bone marrow mononuclear cells from patients with high-risk MDS during treatment with decitabine, using a methylation-sensitive primer extension assay (Ms-SNuPE) to quantitate methylation, and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and bisulfite-DNA sequencing to distinguish individually methylated alleles. p15 expression was serially examined in bone marrow biopsies by immunohistochemistry. Hypermethylation in the 5′ p15 gene region was detected in 15 of 23 patients (65%), whereas the 5′ p16 region was unmethylated in all patients. Among 12 patients with hypermethylation sequentially analyzed after at least one course of decitabine treatment, a decrease in p15 methylation occurred in 9 and was associated with clinical response. DGGE and sequence analyses were indicative of hypomethylation induction at individual alleles. Immunohistochemical staining for p15 protein in bone marrow biopsies from 8 patients with p15 hypermethylation revealed low or absent expression in 4 patients, which was induced to normal levels during decitabine treatment. In conclusion, frequent, selectivep15 hypermethylation was reversed in responding MDS patients following treatment with a methylation inhibitor. The emergence of partially demethylated epigenotypes and re-establishment of normal p15 protein expression following the initial decitabine courses implicate pharmacologic demethylation as a possible mechanism resulting in hematologic response in MDS.

  • Submitted November 16, 2002.
  • Accepted May 29, 2002.
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