Inducible nitric oxide synthase (NOS2) produces high local concentrations of nitric oxide (NO), and its expression is associated with inflammation, cellular stress signals, and cellular transformation. Additionally, NOS2 expression results in aggressive cancer cell phenotypes and is correlated with poor outcomes in patients with breast cancer. DNA hypomethylation, especially of noncoding repeat elements, is an early event in carcinogenesis and is a common feature of cancer cells. In addition to altered gene expression, DNA hypomethylation results in genomic instability via retrotransposon activation. Here, we show that NOS2 expression and associated NO signaling results in substantial DNA hypomethylation in human cell lines by inducing the degradation of DNA (cytosine-5)–methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) protein. Similarly, NOS2 expression levels were correlated with decreased DNA methylation in human breast tumors. NOS2 expression and NO signaling also resulted in long interspersed noncoding element 1 (LINE-1) retrotransposon hypomethylation, expression, and DNA damage. DNMT1 degradation was mediated by an NO/p38-MAPK/lysine acetyltransferase 5–dependent mechanism. Furthermore, we show that this mechanism is required for NO-mediated epithelial transformation. Therefore, we conclude that NOS2 and NO signaling results in DNA damage and malignant cellular transformation via an epigenetic mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2200022119
Pages (from-to)e2200022119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2022


  • DNA methylation
  • nitric oxide
  • NOS2
  • retrotransposon
  • S-nitrosation


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