Stable loss of global DNA methylation in the radiation-target tissue--A possible mechanism contributing to radiation carcinogenesis?
Radiation-induced lymphomagenesis and leukemogenesis are complex processes involving both genetic and epigenetic changes. Although genetic alterations during radiation-induced lymphoma- and leukemogenesis are fairly well studied, the role of epigenetic changes has been largely overlooked. Rodent models are valuable tools for identifying molecular mechanisms of lymphoma and leukemogenesis. A widely used mouse model of radiation-induced thymic lymphoma is characterized by a lengthy "pre-lymphoma" period. Delineating molecular changes occurring during the pre-lymphoma period is crucial for understanding the mechanisms of radiation-induced leukemia/lymphoma development. In the present study, we investigated the role of radiation-induced DNA methylation changes in the radiation carcinogenesis target organ--thymus, and non-target organ--muscle. This study is the first report on the radiation-induced epigenetic changes in radiation-target murine thymus during the pre-lymphoma period. We have demonstrated that acute and fractionated whole-body irradiation significantly altered DNA methylation pattern in murine thymus leading to a massive loss of global DNA methylation. We have also observed that irradiation led to increased levels of DNA strand breaks 6 h following the initial exposure. The majority of radiation-induced DNA strand breaks were repaired 1 month after exposure. DNA methylation changes, though, were persistent and significant radiation-induced DNA hypomethylation was observed in thymus 1 month after exposure. In sharp contrast to thymus, no significant persistent changes were noted in the non-target muscle tissue. The presence of stable DNA hypomethylation in the radiation-target tissue, even though DNA damage resulting from initial genotoxic radiation insult was repaired, suggests of the importance of epigenetic mechanisms in the development of radiation-related pathologies. The possible role of radiation-induced DNA hypomethylation in radiation-induced genome instability and aberrant gene expression in molecular etiology of thymic lymphomas is discussed.