British journal of cancer

Cytoglobin is upregulated by tumour hypoxia and silenced by promoter hypermethylation in head and neck cancer.

PMID 19568272


Cytoglobin (Cygb) was first described in 2002 as an intracellular globin of unknown function. We have previously shown the downregulation of cytoglobin as a key event in a familial cancer syndrome of the upper aerodigestive tract. Cytoglobin expression and promoter methylation were investigated in sporadic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) using a cross-section of clinical samples. Additionally, the putative mechanisms of Cygb expression in cancer were explored by subjecting HNSCC cell lines to hypoxic culture conditions and 5-aza-2-deoxycitidine treatment. In clinically derived HNSCC samples, CYGB mRNA expression showed a striking correlation with tumour hypoxia (measured by HIF1A mRNA expression P=0.013) and consistent associations with histopathological measures of tumour aggression. CYGB expression also showed a marked negative correlation with promoter methylation (P=0.018). In the HNSCC cell lines cultured under hypoxic conditions, a trend of increasing expression of both CYGB and HIF1A with progressive hypoxia was observed. Treatment with 5-aza-2-deoxycitidine dramatically increased CYGB expression in those cell lines with greater baseline promoter methylation. We conclude that the CYGB gene is regulated by both promoter methylation and tumour hypoxia in HNSCC and that increased expression of this gene correlates with clincopathological measures of a tumour's biological aggression.