In a recent study, we described the enhanced double-strand cleavage of hairpin DNAs by Fe·bleomycin (Fe·BLM) that accompanies increasingly strong binding of this antitumor agent and suggested that this effect may be relevant to the mechanism by which BLM mediates its antitumor effects. Because the DNA in tumor cells is known to be hypomethylated on cytidine relative to that in normal cells, it seemed of interest to study the possible effects of methylation status on BLM-induced double-strand DNA cleavage. Three hairpin DNAs found to bind strongly to bleomycin, and their methylated counterparts, were used to study the effect of methylation on bleomycin-induced DNA degradation. Under conditions of limited DNA cleavage, there was a significant overall decrease in the cleavage of methylated hairpin DNAs. Cytidine methylation was found to result in decreased BLM-induced cleavage at the site of methylation and to result in enhanced cleavage at adjacent nonmethylated sites. For two of the three hairpin DNAs studied, methylation was accompanied by a dramatic decrease in the binding affinity for Fe·BLM, suggesting the likelihood of diminished double-strand cleavage. The source of the persistent binding of BLM by the third hairpin DNA was identified. Also identified was the probable molecular mechanism for diminished binding and cleavage of the methylated DNAs by BLM. The possible implications of these findings for the antitumor selectivity of bleomycin are discussed.
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