IntroductionThe Rac-GEF P-REX1 is a key mediator of ErbB signaling in breast cancer recently implicated in mammary tumorigenesis and metastatic dissemination. Although P-REX1 is essentially undetectable in normal human mammary epithelial tissue, this Rac-GEF is markedly up-regulated in human breast carcinomas, particularly of the luminal subtype. The mechanisms underlying P-REX1 up-regulation in breast ca-ncer are unknown. Towards the goal of dissecting the mechanistic basis of P-REX1 overexpression in breast cancer, in this study we focused on the analysis of methylation of the PREX1 gene promoter.MethodsTo determine the methylation status of the PREX1 promoter region, we used bisulfite genomic sequencing and pyrosequencing approaches. Re-expression studies in cell lines were carried out by treatment of breast cancer cells with the demethylating agent 5-aza-2¿-deoxycitidine. PREX1 gene methylation in different human breast cancer subtypes was analyzed from the TCGA database.ResultsWe found that the human PREX1 gene promoter has a CpG island located between ¿1.2 kb and +1.4 kb, and that DNA methylation in this region inversely correlates with P-REX1 expression in human breast cancer cell lines. A comprehensive analysis of human breast cancer cell lines and tumors revealed significant hypomethylation of the PREX1 promoter in ER-positive, luminal subtype, whereas hypermethylation occurs in basal-like breast cancer. Treatment of normal MCF-10A or basal-like cancer cells, MDA-MB-231 with the demethylating agent 5-aza-2¿-deoxycitidine in combination with the histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A restores P-REX1 levels to those observed in luminal breast cancer cell lines, suggesting that aberrant expression of P-REX1 in luminal breast cancer is a consequence of PREX1 promoter demethylation. Unlike PREX1, the pro-metastatic Rho/Rac-GEF, VAV3, is not regulated by methylation. Notably, PREX1 gene promoter hypomethylation is a prognostic marker of poor patient survival.ConclusionsOur study identified for the first time gene promoter hypomethylation as a distinctive subtype-specific mechanism for controlling the expression of a key regulator of Rac-mediated motility and metastasis in breast cancer.