DNA methylation is known to be abnormal in all forms of cancer, but it is not really understood how this occurs and what is its role in tumorigenesis. In this review, we take a wide view of this problem by analyzing the strategies involved in setting up normal DNA methylation patterns and understanding how this stable epigenetic mark works to prevent gene activation during development. Aberrant DNA methylation in cancer can be generated either prior to or following cell transformation through mutations. Increasing evidence suggests, however, that most methylation changes are generated in a programmed manner and occur in a subpopulation of tissue cells during normal aging, probably predisposing them for tumorigenesis. It is likely that this methylation contributes to the tumor state by inhibiting the plasticity of cell differentiation processes. Cancer Res; 76(12); 3446–50. ©2016 AACR.
- Received December 1, 2015.
- Revision received February 24, 2016.
- Accepted March 14, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.