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Epigenetic changes within the promoter region of the HLA-G gene in ovarian tumors

Laura Menendez1, L DeEtte Walker23, Lilya V Matyunina23, Kimberly A Totten23, Benedict B Benigno3 and John F McDonald23*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30605, USA

2 School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA

3 Ovarian Cancer Institute, Atlanta, GA 30342, USA

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Molecular Cancer 2008, 7:43  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-7-43

Published: 22 May 2008



Previous findings have suggested that epigenetic-mediated HLA-G expression in tumor cells may be associated with resistance to host immunosurveillance. To explore the potential role of DNA methylation on HLA-G expression in ovarian cancer, we correlated differences in HLA-G expression with methylation changes within the HLA-G regulatory region in an ovarian cancer cell line treated with 5-aza-deoxycytidine (5-aza-dC) and in malignant and benign ovarian tumor samples and ovarian surface epithelial cells (OSE) isolated from patients with normal ovaries.


A region containing an intact hypoxia response element (HRE) remained completely methylated in the cell line after treatment with 5-aza-dC and was completely methylated in all of the ovarian tumor (malignant and benign) samples examined, but only variably methylated in normal OSE samples. HLA-G expression was significantly increased in the 5-aza-dC treated cell line but no significant difference was detected between the tumor and OSE samples examined.


Since HRE is the binding site of a known repressor of HLA-G expression (HIF-1), we hypothesize that methylation of the region surrounding the HRE may help maintain the potential for expression of HLA-G in ovarian tumors. The fact that no correlation exists between methylation and HLA-G gene expression between ovarian tumor samples and OSE, suggests that changes in methylation may be necessary but not sufficient for HLA-G expression in ovarian cancer.