Open Access Research article

Cancer specific promoter CpG Islands hypermethylation of HOP homeobox (HOPX) gene and its potential tumor suppressive role in pancreatic carcinogenesis

Mina Waraya*, Keishi Yamashita, Hiroshi Katoh, Akira Ooki, Hiroshi Kawamata, Hiroshi Nishimiya, Kazunori Nakamura, Akira Ema and Masahiko Watanabe*

Author Affiliations

Department of Surgery, Kitasato University Hospital, 1-15-1 Kitasato, Minami-ku, Sagamihara, Kanagawa, 252-0375, Japan

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:397  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-397

Published: 7 September 2012



We have recently identified HOP hoemobox (HOPX) as a tumor suppressor gene candidate, characterized by tumor-specific promoter DNA hypermethylation in human cancers, and it can remarkably inhibit tumors’ aggressive phenotypes. In this current study, we for the first time examined methylation level of HOPX and tested the functional relevance in pancreatic cancer (PC).


Clinical features of HOPX promoter hypermethylation was investigated in 89 PC tissues, and immunohistochemistry was added. We also examined its functional relevance in phenotype assays such as soft agar, proliferation, invasion, and cell cycle analysis.


PC tissues had HOPX gene hypermethylation as compared to the corresponding normal pancreas tissues, and its uniqueness was robust to discriminate tumor from normal tissues (AUC = 0.85, P < 0.0001). Unexpectedly, HOPX was increased in expression in tumor tissues, and immunohistochemistry revealed its predominant expression in the Langerhans islet cells, where HOPX was reduced in expression for PC cells with promoter hypermethylation. HOPX transfectants exhibited G1 arrest with subG1 accumulation, and inhibited tumor forming and invasive ability.


Defective expression of HOPX which is consistent with promoter DNA hypermethylation may explain aggressive phenotype of pancreatic cancer, and intense expression of HOPX in the Langerhans cells may in turn uniquely contribute to pancreatic carcinogenesis.

HOP homeobox; Pancreatic cancer; Methylation