The mechanisms that result in increased nucleolar size, number and function in prostate cancer have not been fully elucidated.
The nucleolus is formed around repeats of a transcriptional unit encoding a 45S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) precursor that is then processed to yield the mature 18S, 5.8S and 28S RNA species.
Although it has been generally accepted that tumor cells overexpress rRNA species, this has not been examined in clinical prostate cancer.
We find that indeed levels of the 45S rRNA, 28S, 18S and 5.8S are overexpressed in the majority of human primary prostate cancer specimens as compared with matched benign tissues.
One mechanism that can alter nucleolar function and structure in cancer cells is hypomethylation of CpG dinucleotides of the upstream rDNA promoter region. However, this mechanism has not been examined in prostate cancer.
To determine whether rRNA overexpression could be explained by hypomethylation of these CpG sites, we also evaluated the DNA methylation status of the rDNA promoter in prostate cancer cell lines and the clinical specimens.
Bisulfite sequencing of genomic DNA revealed two roughly equal populations of loci in cell lines consisting of those that contained densely methylated deoxycytidine residues within CpGs and those that were largely unmethylated.
All clinical specimens also contained two populations with no marked changes in methylation of this region in cancer as compared with normal.
We recently reported that MYC can regulate rRNA levels in human prostate cancer; here we show that MYC mRNA levels are correlated with 45S, 18S and 5.8S rRNA levels. Further, as a surrogate for nucleolar size and number, we examined the expression of fibrillarin, which did not correlate with rRNA levels.
We conclude that rRNA levels are increased in human prostate cancer, but that hypomethylation of the rDNA promoter does not explain this increase, nor does hypomethylation explain alterations in nucleolar number and structure in prostate cancer cells. Rather, rRNA levels and nucleolar size and number relate more closely to MYC overexpression.