Fusaric acid-induced promoter methylation of DNA methyltransferases triggers DNA hypomethylation in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2) cells

Fusaric acid (FA), a mycotoxin contaminant of maize, displays toxicity in plants and animals; however, its epigenetic mechanism is unknown. DNA methylation, an epigenetic modification that regulates gene expression, is mediated by DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs; DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B) and demethylases (MBD2). The expression of DNMTs and demethylases are regulated by promoter methylation, microRNAs (miR-29b) and post-translational modifications (ubiquitination). Alterations in these DNA methylation modifying enzymes affect DNA methylation patterns and offer novel mechanisms of FA toxicity. We determined the effect of FA on global DNA methylation as well as a mechanism of FA-induced changes in DNA methylation by transcriptional (promoter methylation), post-transcriptional (miR-29b) and post-translational (ubiquitination) regulation of DNMTs and MBD2 in the human hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2) cell line. FA induced global DNA hypomethylation (p < 0.0001) in HepG2 cells. FA decreased the mRNA and protein expression of DNMT1 (p < 0.0001), DNMT3A (p < 0.0001), and DNMT3B (p < 0.0001) by upregulating miR-29b (p < 0.0001) and inducing promoter hypermethylation of DNMT1 (p < 0.0001) and DNMT3B (p < 0.0001). FA decreased the ubiquitination of DNMT1 (p = 0.0753), DNMT3A (p = 0.0008), and DNMT3B (p < 0.0001) by decreasing UHRF1 (p < 0.0001) and USP7 (p < 0.0001). FA also induced MBD2 promoter hypomethylation (p < 0.0001) and increased MBD2 expression (p < 0.0001). Together these results indicate that FA induces global DNA hypomethylation by altering DNMT promoter methylation, upregulating miR-29b, and increasing MBD2 in HepG2 cells.