Peng Z, Shen R, Li YW, Teng KY, Shapiro CL, Lin HJ
BACKGROUND: The cis-acting promoter element responsible for epigenetic silencing of retinoic acid receptor responder 1 (RARRES1) by methylation is unclear. Likewise, how aberrant methylation interplays effectors and thus affects breast neoplastic features remains largely unknown. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We first compared methylation occurring at the sequences (-664∼+420) flanking the RARRES1 promoter in primary breast carcinomas to that in adjacent benign tissues. Surprisingly, tumor cores displayed significantly elevated methylation occurring solely at the upstream region (-664∼-86), while the downstream element (-85∼+420) proximal to the transcriptional start site (+1) remained largely unchanged. Yet, hypermethylation at the former did not result in appreciable silencing effect. In contrast, the proximal sequence displayed full promoter activity and methylation of which remarkably silenced RARRES1 transcription. This phenomenon was recapitulated in breast cancer cell lines, in which methylation at the proximal region strikingly coincided with downregulation. We also discovered that CTCF occupancy was enriched at the unmethylayed promoter bound with transcription-active histone markings. Furthermore, knocking-down CTCF expression hampered RARRES1 expression, suggesting CTCF positively regulated RARRES1 transcription presumably by binding to unmethylated promoter poised at transcription-ready state. Moreover, RARRES1 restoration not only impeded cell invasion but also promoted death induced by chemotherapeutic agents, denoting its tumor suppressive effect. Its role of attenuating invasion agreed with data generated from clinical specimens revealing that RARRES1 was generally downregulated in metastatic lymph nodes compared to the tumor cores. CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: This report delineated silencing of RARRES1 by hypermethylation is occurring at a proximal promoter element and is associated with a loss of binding to CTCF, an activator for RARRES1 expression. We also revealed the tumor suppressive roles exerted by RARRES1 in part by promoting breast epithelial cell death and by impeding cell invasion that is an important property for metastatic spread.