A strong association exists between states of chronic inflammation and cancer, and it is believed that mediators of inflammation may be responsible for this phenomenon. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is an inflammatory cytokine known to play a role in the growth and survival of many types of tumors, yet the mechanisms employed by this pleomorphic cytokine to accomplish this feat are still poorly understood. Another important factor in tumor development seems to be the hypermethylation of CpG islands located within the promoter regions of tumor suppressor genes. This common epigenetic alteration enables tumor cells to reduce or inactivate the expression of important tumor suppressor and cell cycle regulatory genes. Here we show that in the IL-6-responsive human multiple myeloma cell line KAS 6/1, the promoter region of p53 is epigenetically modified by methyltransferases, resulting in decreased levels of expression. Furthermore, cells treated with IL-6 exhibit an increase in the expression of the DNA maintenance methylation enzyme, DNMT-1. The DNA methyltransferase inhibitor zebularine reverses the methylation of the p53 promoter, allowing the resumption of its expression. However, when zebularine is withdrawn from the cells, the reestablishment of the original CpG island methylation within the p53 promoter does not occur in the absence of IL-6, and cells which do not receive IL-6 eventually die, as p53 expression continues unchecked by remethylation. Interestingly, this loss of viability seems to involve not the withdrawal of cytokine, but the inability of the cell to resilence the promoter. Consistent with this model, when cells that express IL-6 in an autocrine fashion are subjected to identical treatment, p53 expression is reduced shortly after withdrawal of zebularine. Therefore, it seems IL-6 is capable of maintaining promoter methylation thus representing one of the possible mechanisms used by inflammatory mediators in the growth and survival of tumors.
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