The Journal of biological chemistry

The epigenetic drug 5-azacytidine interferes with cholesterol and lipid metabolism.

PMID 24855646


DNA methylation and histone acetylation inhibitors are widely used to study the role of epigenetic marks in the regulation of gene expression. In addition, several of these molecules are being tested in clinical trials or already in use in the clinic. Antimetabolites, such as the DNA-hypomethylating agent 5-azacytidine (5-AzaC), have been shown to lower malignant progression to acute myeloid leukemia and to prolong survival in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes. Here we examined the effects of DNA methylation inhibitors on the expression of lipid biosynthetic and uptake genes. Our data demonstrate that, independently of DNA methylation, 5-AzaC selectively and very potently reduces expression of key genes involved in cholesterol and lipid metabolism (e.g. PCSK9, HMGCR, and FASN) in all tested cell lines and in vivo in mouse liver. Treatment with 5-AzaC disturbed subcellular cholesterol homeostasis, thereby impeding activation of sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (key regulators of lipid metabolism). Through inhibition of UMP synthase, 5-AzaC also strongly induced expression of 1-acylglycerol-3-phosphate O-acyltransferase 9 (AGPAT9) and promoted triacylglycerol synthesis and cytosolic lipid droplet formation. Remarkably, complete reversal was obtained by the co-addition of either UMP or cytidine. Therefore, this study provides the first evidence that inhibition of the de novo pyrimidine synthesis by 5-AzaC disturbs cholesterol and lipid homeostasis, probably through the glycerolipid biosynthesis pathway, which may contribute mechanistically to its beneficial cytostatic properties.