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1.  PRC2 inhibition counteracts the culture-associated loss of engraftment potential of human cord blood-derived hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:12319.
Cord blood hematopoietic stem cells (CB-HSCs) are an outstanding source for transplantation approaches. However, the amount of cells per donor is limited and culture expansion of CB-HSCs is accompanied by a loss of engraftment potential. In order to analyze the molecular mechanisms leading to this impaired potential we profiled global and local epigenotypes during the expansion of human CB hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HPSCs). Human CB-derived CD34+ cells were cultured in serum-free medium together with SCF, TPO, FGF, with or without Igfbp2 and Angptl5 (STF/STFIA cocktails). As compared to the STF cocktail, the STFIA cocktail maintains in vivo repopulation capacity of cultured CD34+ cells. Upon expansion, CD34+ cells genome-wide remodel their epigenotype and depending on the cytokine cocktail, cells show different H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 levels. Expanding cells without Igfbp2 and Angptl5 leads to higher global H3K27me3 levels. ChIPseq analyses reveal a cytokine cocktail-dependent redistribution of H3K27me3 profiles. Inhibition of the PRC2 component EZH2 counteracts the culture-associated loss of NOD scid gamma (NSG) engraftment potential. Collectively, our data reveal chromatin dynamics that underlie the culture-associated loss of engraftment potential. We identify PRC2 component EZH2 as being involved in the loss of engraftment potential during the in vitro expansion of HPSCs.
PMCID: PMC4510577  PMID: 26198814
2.  Gene Silencing Associated with SWI/SNF Complex Loss During NSCLC Development 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2014;12(4):560-570.
The SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complex regulates gene expression and alters chromatin structures in an ATP-dependent manner. Recent sequencing efforts have shown mutations in BRG1 (SMARCA4), one of two mutually exclusive ATPase subunits in the complex, in a significant number of human lung tumor cell lines and primary non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) clinical specimens. To determine how BRG1 loss fuels tumor progression in NSCLC, molecular profiling was performed after restoration of BRG1 expression or treatment with an HDAC inhibitor or a DNMT inhibitor in a BRG1-deficient NSCLC cells. Importantly, validation studies from multiple cell lines revealed that BRG1 re-expression led to substantial changes in the expression of CDH1, CDH3, EHF and RRAD that commonly undergo silencing by other epigenetic mechanisms during NSCLC development. Furthermore, treatment with DNMT inhibitors did not restore expression of these transcripts indicating that this common mechanism of gene silencing did not account for their loss of expression. Collectively, BRG1 loss is an important mechanism for the epigenetic silencing of target genes during NSCLC development.
PMCID: PMC3989415  PMID: 24445599
Chromatin remodeling; lung cancer; DNA methylation; histone acetylation
3.  Dysregulated serum response factor triggers formation of hepatocellular carcinoma 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2015;61(3):979-989.
The ubiquitously expressed transcriptional regulator serum response factor (SRF) is controlled by both Ras/MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) and Rho/actin signaling pathways, which are frequently activated in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We generated SRF-VP16iHep mice, which conditionally express constitutively active SRF-VP16 in hepatocytes, thereby controlling subsets of both Ras/MAPK- and Rho/actin-stimulated target genes. All SRF-VP16iHep mice develop hyperproliferative liver nodules that progresses to lethal HCC. Some murine (m)HCCs acquire Ctnnb1 mutations equivalent to those in human (h)HCC. The resulting transcript signatures mirror those of a distinct subgroup of hHCCs, with shared activation of oncofetal genes including Igf2, correlating with CpG hypomethylation at the imprinted Igf2/H19 locus. Conclusion: SRF-VP16iHep mHCC reveal convergent Ras/MAPK and Rho/actin signaling as a highly oncogenic driver mechanism for hepatocarcinogenesis. This suggests simultaneous inhibition of Ras/MAPK and Rho/actin signaling as a treatment strategy in hHCC therapy. (Hepatology 2015;61:979–989)
PMCID: PMC4365683  PMID: 25266280
4.  Epigenetics Meets Genetics in Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Clinical Impact of a Novel Seven-Gene Score 
Journal of Clinical Oncology  2013;32(6):548-556.
Molecular risk stratification of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is largely based on genetic markers. However, epigenetic changes, including DNA methylation, deregulate gene expression and may also have prognostic impact. We evaluated the clinical relevance of integrating DNA methylation and genetic information in AML.
Next-generation sequencing analysis of methylated DNA identified differentially methylated regions (DMRs) associated with prognostic mutations in older (≥ 60 years) cytogenetically normal (CN) patients with AML (n = 134). Genes with promoter DMRs and expression levels significantly associated with outcome were used to compute a prognostic gene expression weighted summary score that was tested and validated in four independent patient sets (n = 355).
In the training set, we identified seven genes (CD34, RHOC, SCRN1, F2RL1, FAM92A1, MIR155HG, and VWA8) with promoter DMRs and expression associated with overall survival (OS; P ≤ .001). Each gene had high DMR methylation and lower expression, which were associated with better outcome. A weighted summary expression score of the seven gene expression levels was computed. A low score was associated with a higher complete remission (CR) rate and longer disease-free survival and OS (P < .001 for all end points). This was validated in multivariable models and in two younger (< 60 years) and two older independent sets of patients with CN-AML. Considering the seven genes individually, the fewer the genes with high expression, the better the outcome. Younger and older patients with no genes or one gene with high expression had the best outcomes (CR rate, 94% and 87%, respectively; 3-year OS, 80% and 42%, respectively).
A seven-gene score encompassing epigenetic and genetic prognostic information identifies novel AML subsets that are meaningful for treatment guidance.
PMCID: PMC3918538  PMID: 24378410
5.  Transient DNMT1 suppression reveals hidden heritable marks in the genome 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;43(3):1485-1497.
Genome-wide demethylation and remethylation of DNA during early embryogenesis is essential for development. Imprinted germline differentially methylated domains (gDMDs) established by sex-specific methylation in either male or female germ cells, must escape these dynamic changes and sustain precise inheritance of both methylated and unmethylated parental alleles. To identify other, gDMD-like sequences with the same epigenetic inheritance properties, we used a modified embryonic stem (ES) cell line that emulates the early embryonic demethylation and remethylation waves. Transient DNMT1 suppression revealed gDMD-like sequences requiring continuous DNMT1 activity to sustain a highly methylated state. Remethylation of these sequences was also compromised in vivo in a mouse model of transient DNMT1 loss in the preimplantation embryo. These novel regions, possessing heritable epigenetic features similar to imprinted-gDMDs are required for normal physiological and developmental processes and when disrupted are associated with disorders such as cancer and autism spectrum disorders. This study presents new perspectives on DNA methylation heritability during early embryo development that extend beyond conventional imprinted-gDMDs.
PMCID: PMC4330356  PMID: 25578964
6.  Methylation of the PTPRO Gene in Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma and Identification of VCP as Its Substrate 
Journal of cellular biochemistry  2013;114(8):1810-1818.
We have previously reported that the gene encoding protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor type-O (PTPRO) is suppressed by promoter methylation in a rat model of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and it functions as tumor suppressor in leukemia and lung cancer. Here, we explored the methylation and expression of PTPRO as well as its function in human HCC. MassARRAY analysis of primary human HCC and matching liver samples (n = 24) revealed significantly higher (P = 0.004) methylation density at the promoter CGI in tumors. Combined bisulfite restriction analysis (COBRA) of another set of human HCC samples (n = 17) demonstrated that the CGI was methylated in 29% of tumors where expression of PTPRO was lower than that in corresponding matching livers. A substrate-trapping mutant of PTPRO that stabilizes the bound substrates was used to identify its novel substrate(s). VCP/p97 was found to be a PTPRO substrate by mass spectrometry of the peptides pulled down by the substrate-trapping mutant of PTPRO. Tyrosyl dephosphorylation of VCP following ectopic expression of wild-type PTPRO in H293T and HepG2 cells confirmed that it is a bona fide substrate of PTPRO. Treatment of PTPRO overexpressing HepG2 cells with Doxorubicin, a DNA damaging drug commonly used in therapy of primary HCC, sensitized these cells to this potent anticancer drug that correlated with dephosphorylation of VCP. Taken together, these results demonstrate methylation and downregulation of PTPRO in a subset of primary human HCC and establish VCP as a novel functionally important substrate of this tyrosine phosphatase that could be a potential molecular target for HCC therapy.
PMCID: PMC4199230  PMID: 23533167
7.  Evolution of DNA Methylation Is Linked to Genetic Aberrations in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia 
Cancer discovery  2013;4(3):348-361.
Although clonal selection by genetic driver aberrations in cancer is well documented, the ability of epigenetic alterations to promote tumor evolution is undefined. We used 450k arrays and next-generation sequencing to evaluate intratumor heterogeneity and evolution of DNA methylation and genetic aberrations in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). CLL cases exhibit vast interpatient differences in intratumor methylation heterogeneity, with genetically clonal cases maintaining low methylation heterogeneity and up to 10% of total CpGs in a monoallelically methylated state. Increasing methylation heterogeneity correlates with advanced genetic subclonal complexity. Selection of novel DNA methylation patterns is observed only in cases that undergo genetic evolution, and independent genetic evolution is uncommon and is restricted to low-risk alterations. These results reveal that although evolution of DNA methylation occurs in high-risk, clinically progressive cases, positive selection of novel methylation patterns entails coevolution of genetic alteration(s) in CLL.
PMCID: PMC4134522  PMID: 24356097
8.  Identification of a DNA methylation signature to predict disease-free survival in locally advanced rectal cancer 
Oncotarget  2014;5(18):8123-8135.
In locally advanced rectal cancer a preoperative predictive biomarker is necessary to adjust treatment specifically for those patients expected to suffer relapse. We applied whole genome methylation CpG island array analyses to an initial set of patients (n=11) to identify differentially methylated regions (DMRs) that separate a good from a bad prognosis group. Using a quantitative high-resolution approach, candidate DMRs were first validated in a set of 61 patients (test set) and then confirmed DMRs were further validated in additional independent patient cohorts (n=71, n=42). We identified twenty highly discriminative DMRs and validated them in the test set using the MassARRAY technique. Ten DMRs could be confirmed which allowed separation into prognosis groups (p=0.0207, HR=4.09). The classifier was validated in two additional cohorts (n=71, p=0.0345, HR=3.57 and n=42, p=0.0113, HR=3.78). Interestingly, six of the ten DMRs represented regions close to the transcriptional start sites of genes which are also marked by the Polycomb Repressor Complex component EZH2. In conclusion we present a classifier comprising 10 DMRs which predicts patient prognosis with a high degree of accuracy. These data may now help to discriminate between patients that may respond better to standard treatments from those that may require alternative modalities.
PMCID: PMC4226671  PMID: 25261372
9.  Pan-cancer patterns of DNA methylation 
Genome Medicine  2014;6(8):66.
The comparison of DNA methylation patterns across cancer types (pan-cancer methylome analyses) has revealed distinct subgroups of tumors that share similar methylation patterns. Integration of these data with the wealth of information derived from cancer genome profiling studies performed by large international consortia has provided novel insights into the cellular aberrations that contribute to cancer development. There is evidence that genetic mutations in epigenetic regulators (such as DNMT3, IDH1/2 or H3.3) mediate or contribute to these patterns, although a unifying molecular mechanism underlying the global alterations of DNA methylation has largely been elusive. Knowledge gained from pan-cancer methylome analyses will aid the development of diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers, improve patient stratification and the discovery of novel druggable targets for therapy, and will generate hypotheses for innovative clinical trial designs based on methylation subgroups rather than on cancer subtypes. In this review, we discuss recent advances in the global profiling of tumor genomes for aberrant DNA methylation and the integration of these data with cancer genome profiling data, highlight potential mechanisms leading to different methylation subgroups, and show how this information can be used in basic research and for translational applications. A remaining challenge is to experimentally prove the functional link between observed pan-cancer methylation patterns, the associated genetic aberrations, and their relevance for the development of cancer.
PMCID: PMC4254427  PMID: 25473433
10.  Malignant astrocytomas of elderly patients lack favorable molecular markers: an analysis of the NOA-08 study collective 
Neuro-Oncology  2013;15(8):1017-1026.
The number of patients age >65 years with malignant gliomas is increasing. Prognosis of these patients is worse compared with younger patients. To determine biological differences among malignant gliomas of different age groups and help to explain the survival heterogeneity seen in the NOA-08 trial, the prevalence and impact of recently established biomarkers for outcome in younger patients were characterized in elderly patients.
Prevalences of mutations of isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) and histone H3.3 (H3F3A), the glioma cytosine–phosphate–guanine island methylator phenotype (G-CIMP), and methylation of alkylpurine DNA N-glycosylase (APNG) and peroxiredoxin 1 (PRDX1) promoters were determined in a representative biomarker subset (n = 126 patients with anaplastic astrocytoma or glioblastoma) from the NOA-08 trial.
IDH1 mutations (R132H) were detected in only 3/126 patients, precluding determination of an association between IDH mutation and outcome. These 3 patients also displayed the G-CIMP phenotype. None of the IDH1 wild-type tumors were G-CIMP positive. Mutations in H3F3A were absent in all 103 patients sequenced for H3F3A. MassARRAY analysis of the APNG promoter revealed generally low methylation levels and failed to confirm any predictive properties for benefit from alkylating chemotherapy. Neither did PRDX1 promoter methylation show differential methylation or association with outcome in this cohort. In a 170-patient cohort from The Cancer Genome Atlas database matched for relevant prognostic factors, age ≥65 years was strongly associated with shorter survival.
Despite an age-independent stable frequency of O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) promoter hypermethylation, tumors in this age group largely lack prognostically favorable markers established in younger glioblastoma patients, which likely contributes to the overall worse prognosis of elderly patients. However, the survival differences hint at fundamental further differences among malignant gliomas of different age groups.
PMCID: PMC3714152  PMID: 23595628
APNG methylation; G-CIMP; glioblastoma; H3F3A mutation; IDH mutation; PRDX1 methylation
11.  Early aberrant DNA methylation events in a mouse model of acute myeloid leukemia 
Genome Medicine  2014;6(4):34.
Aberrant DNA methylation is frequently found in human malignancies including acute myeloid leukemia (AML). While most studies focus on later disease stages, the onset of aberrant DNA methylation events and their dynamics during leukemic progression are largely unknown.
We screened genome-wide for aberrant CpG island methylation in three disease stages of a murine AML model that is driven by hypomorphic expression of the hematopoietic transcription factor PU.1. DNA methylation levels of selected genes were correlated with methylation levels of CD34+ cells and lineage negative, CD127-, c-Kit+, Sca-1+ cells; common myeloid progenitors; granulocyte-macrophage progenitors; and megakaryocyte-erythroid progenitors.
We identified 1,184 hypermethylated array probes covering 762 associated genes in the preleukemic stage. During disease progression, the number of hypermethylated genes increased to 5,465 in the late leukemic disease stage. Using publicly available data, we found a significant enrichment of PU.1 binding sites in the preleukemic hypermethylated genes, suggesting that shortage of PU.1 makes PU.1 binding sites in the DNA accessible for aberrant methylation. Many known AML associated genes such as RUNX1 and HIC1 were found among the preleukemic hypermethylated genes. Nine novel hypermethylated genes, FZD5, FZD8, PRDM16, ROBO3, CXCL14, BCOR, ITPKA, HES6 and TAL1, the latter four being potential PU.1 targets, were confirmed to be hypermethylated in human normal karyotype AML patients, underscoring the relevance of the mouse model for human AML.
Our study identified early aberrantly methylated genes as potential contributors to onset and progression of AML.
PMCID: PMC4062060  PMID: 24944583
12.  Quantification of Regional DNA Methylation by Liquid Chromatography/Tandem Mass Spectrometry 
Analytical biochemistry  2009;391(2):106-113.
Promoter hypermethylation associated tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) silencing has been explored as a therapeutic target for hypomethylating agents. Promoter methylation change may serve as a pharmacodynamic endpoint for evaluation of the efficacy of these agents and predict the patient’s clinical response. Herein, a LC-MS/MS assay has been developed for quantitative regional DNA methylation analysis using the molar ratio of 5-methyl-2′-deoxycytidine (5mdC) to 2′-deoxycytidine (2dC) in the enzymatic hydrolysate of fully methylated bisulfite-converted PCR amplicons as the methylation indicator. The assay can differentiate 5% of promoter methylation level with an intra-day precision ranging from 3.00 to 16.0% using two TSGs: HIN-1 and RASSF1A. This method was applied to characterize decitabine-induced promoter DNA methylation changes of these two TSGs in a breast cancer MCF-7 cell line. Promoter methylation of these TSGs was found to decrease in a dose-dependent manner. Correspondingly, the expression of these TSGs was enhanced. The sensitivity and reproducibility of the method make it a valuable tool for specific gene methylation analysis, which could aid characterization of hypomethylating activity on specific genes by hypomethylating agents in a clinical setting.
PMCID: PMC3939067  PMID: 19442645
Regional DNA Methylation; LC-MS/MS; Quantification
13.  Gene silencing of SLC5A8 identified by genome-wide methylation profiling in lung cancer 
Aberrant DNA hypermethylation has been implicated as a component of an epigenetic mechanism that silences genes in cancers.
We performed a genome-wide search to identify differentially methylated loci between 26 tumor and adjacent non-tumor paired tissues from same lung cancer patients using restriction landmark genomic scanning (RLGS) analysis. Among 229 loci which were hypermethylated in lung tumors as compared to adjacent non-tumor tissues, solute carrier family 5, member 8 (SLC5A8) was one of the hypermethylated genes, and known as a tumor suppressor gene which is silenced by epigenetic changes in various tumors. We investigated the significance of DNA methylation in SLC5A8 expression in lung cancer cell lines, and 23 paired tumor and adjacent non-tumor lung tissues by reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR), quantitative methylation specific PCR (QMSP) and bisulfite modified DNA sequencing analyses.
Reduced or lost expression of SLC5A8 was observed in 39.1% (9/23) of the tumor tissues as compared with paired adjacent non-tumor tissues. Bisulfite sequencing results of lung cancer cell lines and tissues which did not express SLC5A8 showed a densely methylated promoter region of SLC5A8. SLC5A8 was reactivated by treatment with DNA methyltransferase inhibitor, 5-Aza and/or HDAC inhibitor, trichostatin A (TSA) in lung cancer cell lines, which did not express SLC5A8. Hypermethylation was detected at the promoter region of SLC5A8 in primary lung tumor tissues as compared with adjacent non-tumor tissues (14/23, 60.9%).
These results suggest that DNA methylation in the SLC5A8 promoter region may suppress the expression of SLC5A8 in lung tumor.
PMCID: PMC3566332  PMID: 23273563
Lung cancer; Gene silencing; SLC5A8; Tumor suppressor gene; DNA methylation; Restriction landmark genomic scanning
14.  Epigenetic screen identifies genotype- specific promoter DNA methylation and oncogenic potential of CHRNB4 
Oncogene  2012;32(28):3329-3338.
Genome-wide association studies have highlighted three major lung cancer susceptibility regions at 15q25.1, 5p15.33 and 6p21.33. To gain insight into the possible mechanistic relevance of the genes in these regions, we investigated the regulation of candidate susceptibility gene expression by epigenetic alterations in healthy and lung tumor tissues. For genes up- or downregulated in lung tumors the influence of genetic variants on DNA methylation was investigated and in vitro studies were performed.
We analyzed 394 CpG units within 19 CpG islands in the susceptibility regions in a screening set of 34 patients. Significant findings were validated in an independent patient set (n=50) with available DNA and RNA. The most consistent overall DNA methylation difference between tumor and adjacent normal tissue on 15q25 was tumor hypomethylation in the promoter region of CHRNB4 with a median difference of 8% (p<0.001) which resulted in overexpression of the transcript in tumors (p<0.001). Confirming previous studies we also found hypermethylation in CHRNA3 and TERT with significant expression changes. Decitabine treatment of H1299 cells resulted in reduced methylation levels in gene promoters, elevated transcript levels of CHRNB4 and CHRNA3 and a slight downregulation of TERT demonstrating epigenetic regulation of lung cancer cells. SNPs rs421629 on 5p15.33 and rs1948, rs660652, rs8040868 and rs2036527 on 15q25.1, previously identified as lung cancer risk or nicotine addiction modifiers were associated with tumor DNA methylation levels in the promoters of TERT and CHRNB4 (p<0.001) respectively in two independent sample sets (n=82; n=150). In addition, CHRNB4 knock down in two different cell lines (A549 and H1299) resulted in reduced proliferation (pA549<0.05;pH1299L<0.001) and propensity to form colonies in H1299 cells.
These results suggest epigenetic deregulation of nicotinic acetylcholinereceptor subunit (nAChR) genes which in the case of CHRNB4 is strongly associated with genetic lung cancer susceptibility variants and a functional impact on tumorigenic potential.
PMCID: PMC3710305  PMID: 22945651
DNA methylation; risk factors; non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); CHRNB4; TERT
15.  Loss of DNMT1o Disrupts Imprinted X Chromosome Inactivation and Accentuates Placental Defects in Females 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(11):e1003873.
The maintenance of key germline derived DNA methylation patterns during preimplantation development depends on stores of DNA cytosine methyltransferase-1o (DNMT1o) provided by the oocyte. Dnmt1omat−/− mouse embryos born to Dnmt1Δ1o/Δ1o female mice lack DNMT1o protein and have disrupted genomic imprinting and associated phenotypic abnormalities. Here, we describe additional female-specific morphological abnormalities and DNA hypomethylation defects outside imprinted loci, restricted to extraembryonic tissue. Compared to male offspring, the placentae of female offspring of Dnmt1Δ1o/Δ1o mothers displayed a higher incidence of genic and intergenic hypomethylation and more frequent and extreme placental dysmorphology. The majority of the affected loci were concentrated on the X chromosome and associated with aberrant biallelic expression, indicating that imprinted X-inactivation was perturbed. Hypomethylation of a key regulatory region of Xite within the X-inactivation center was present in female blastocysts shortly after the absence of methylation maintenance by DNMT1o at the 8-cell stage. The female preponderance of placental DNA hypomethylation associated with maternal DNMT1o deficiency provides evidence of additional roles beyond the maintenance of genomic imprints for DNA methylation events in the preimplantation embryo, including a role in imprinted X chromosome inactivation.
Author Summary
During oocyte growth and maturation, vital proteins and enzymes are produced to ensure that, when fertilized, a healthy embryo will arise. When this natural process is interrupted, one or more of these essential elements can fail to be produced thus compromising the health of the future embryo. We are using a mouse model, lacking an enzyme (DNMT1o) produced in the oocyte and only required post-fertilization in the early embryo for the maintenance of inherited DNA methylation marks. Here, we reveal that oocytes lacking DNMT1o, when fertilized, generated conceptuses with a wide variety of placental abnormalities. These placental abnormalities were more frequent and severe in females, and showed specific genomic regions constantly deprived of their normal methylation marks. The affected genomic regions were concentrated on the X chromosome. Interestingly, we also found that a region important for the regulation of the X chromosome inactivation process was hypomethylated in female blastocysts and was associated with sex-specific abnormalities in the placenta, relaxation of imprinted X chromosome inactivation, and disruption of DNA methylation later in development. Our findings provide a novel unanticipated role for DNA methylation events taking place within the first few days of life specifically in female preimplantation embryos.
PMCID: PMC3836718  PMID: 24278026
16.  Hypermutation of the Inactive X Chromosome Is a Frequent Event in Cancer 
Cell  2013;155(3):567-581.
Mutation is a fundamental process in tumorigenesis. However, the degree to which the rate of somatic mutation varies across the human genome and the mechanistic basis underlying this variation remain to be fully elucidated. Here, we performed a cross-cancer comparison of 402 whole genomes comprising a diverse set of childhood and adult tumors, including both solid and hematopoietic malignancies. Surprisingly, we found that the inactive X chromosome of many female cancer genomes accumulates on average twice and up to four times as many somatic mutations per megabase, as compared to the individual autosomes. Whole-genome sequencing of clonally expanded hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPCs) from healthy individuals and a premalignant myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) sample revealed no X chromosome hypermutation. Our data suggest that hypermutation of the inactive X chromosome is an early and frequent feature of tumorigenesis resulting from DNA replication stress in aberrantly proliferating cells.
Graphical Abstract
•X chromosome has up to 4× more mutations than the autosomes in female cancer genomes•Hypermutations only affect the inactive X chromosome•X hypermutation involves somatic point mutations and indels, but not germline mutations•No X hypermutation is found in clonal expansions of normal or premalignant cells
A comparison of 402 cancer genomes identifies a surprisingly high level of somatic mutations in the inactive X chromosome of female cancer genomes. As hypermutability of the inactive X was not observed in clonal hematopoietic progenitor or preleukemic samples, it is likely that it may be a contributing factor to tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3898475  PMID: 24139898
17.  Quantitative analyses of DAPK1 methylation in AML and MDS 
Aberrant DNA methylation and concomitant transcriptional silencing of death-associated protein kinase 1 (DAPK1) have been demonstrated to be key pathogenic events in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), however, the presence of elevated DNA methylation levels has been a matter of continued controversy. Several studies demonstrated highly variable frequencies of DAPK1 promoter methylation by the use of methylation-specific PCR (MSP). By quantitative high resolution assessment, we demonstrate that aberrant DNA methylation is an extremely rare event in this region. We observed elevated levels just in one out of 246 (0.4%) AML patients, all 42 MDS patients were unmethylated. In conclusion, we present a refined DAPK1 methylation analysis in a large representative patient cohort of AML and MDS patients proofing almost complete absence of elevated DNA methylation. Our results highlight the importance of quantitative measurements particularly for translational research questions on primary patient specimens.
PMCID: PMC3463871  PMID: 21918973
18.  Quantitative DNA Methylation Analysis Identifies a Single CpG Dinucleotide Important for ZAP-70 Expression and Predictive of Prognosis in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia 
Journal of Clinical Oncology  2012;30(20):2483-2491.
Increased ZAP-70 expression predicts poor prognosis in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Current methods for accurately measuring ZAP-70 expression are problematic, preventing widespread application of these tests in clinical decision making. We therefore used comprehensive DNA methylation profiling of the ZAP-70 regulatory region to identify sites important for transcriptional control.
Patients and Methods
High-resolution quantitative DNA methylation analysis of the entire ZAP-70 gene regulatory regions was conducted on 247 samples from patients with CLL from four independent clinical studies.
Through this comprehensive analysis, we identified a small area in the 5′ regulatory region of ZAP-70 that showed large variability in methylation in CLL samples but was universally methylated in normal B cells. High correlation with mRNA and protein expression, as well as activity in promoter reporter assays, revealed that within this differentially methylated region, a single CpG dinucleotide and neighboring nucleotides are particularly important in ZAP-70 transcriptional regulation. Furthermore, by using clustering approaches, we identified a prognostic role for this site in four independent data sets of patients with CLL using time to treatment, progression-free survival, and overall survival as clinical end points.
Comprehensive quantitative DNA methylation analysis of the ZAP-70 gene in CLL identified important regions responsible for transcriptional regulation. In addition, loss of methylation at a specific single CpG dinucleotide in the ZAP-70 5′ regulatory sequence is a highly predictive and reproducible biomarker of poor prognosis in this disease. This work demonstrates the feasibility of using quantitative specific ZAP-70 methylation analysis as a relevant clinically applicable prognostic test in CLL.
PMCID: PMC3397783  PMID: 22564988
19.  A systematic comparison of quantitative high-resolution DNA methylation analysis and methylation-specific PCR 
Epigenetics  2012;7(7):772-780.
Assessment of DNA methylation has become a critical factor for the identification, development and application of methylation based biomarkers. Here we describe a systematic comparison of a quantitative high-resolution mass spectrometry-based approach (MassARRAY), pyrosequencing and the broadly used methylation-specific PCR (MSP) technique analyzing clinically relevant epigenetically silenced genes in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). By MassARRAY and pyrosequencing, we identified significant DNA methylation differences at the ID4 gene promoter and in the 5′ region of members of the SFRP gene family in 62 AML patients compared with healthy controls. We found a good correlation between data obtained by MassARRAY and pyrosequencing (correlation coefficient R2 = 0.88). MSP-based assessment of the identical samples showed less pronounced differences between AML patients and controls. By direct comparison of MSP-derived and MassARRAY-based methylation data as well as pyrosequencing, we could determine overestimation of DNA methylation data by MSP. We found sequence-context dependent highly variable cut-off values of quantitative DNA methylation values serving as discriminator for the two MSP methylation categories. Moreover, good agreements between quantitative methods and MSP could not be achieved for all investigated loci. Significant correlation of the quantitative assessment but not of MSP-derived methylation data with clinically important characteristics in our patient cohort demonstrated clinical relevance of quantitative DNA methylation assessment. Taken together, while MSP is still the most commonly applied technique for DNA methylation assessment, our data highlight advantages of quantitative approaches for precise characterization and reliable biomarker use of aberrant DNA methylation in primary patient samples, particularly.
PMCID: PMC3414395  PMID: 22647397
ID4; SFRP; AML; MSP; MassARRAY; biomarker; pyrosequencing; quantitative DNA methylation analysis
20.  Promoter DNA methylation regulates progranulin expression and is altered in FTLD 
Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) is a heterogeneous group of neurodegenerative diseases associated with personality changes and progressive dementia. Loss-of-function mutations in the growth factor progranulin (GRN) cause autosomal dominant FTLD, but so far the pathomechanism of sporadic FTLD is unclear.
We analyzed whether DNA methylation in the GRN core promoter restricts GRN expression and, thus, might promote FTLD in the absence of GRN mutations. GRN expression in human lymphoblast cell lines is negatively correlated with methylation at several CpG units within the GRN promoter. Chronic treatment with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine (DAC) strongly induces GRN mRNA and protein levels. In a reporter assay, CpG methylation blocks transcriptional activity of the GRN core promoter. In brains of FTLD patients several CpG units in the GRN promoter are significantly hypermethylated compared to age-matched healthy controls, Alzheimer and Parkinson patients. These CpG motifs are critical for GRN promoter activity in reporter assays. Furthermore, DNA methyltransferase 3a (DNMT3a) is upregulated in FTLD patients and overexpression of DNMT3a reduces GRN promoter activity and expression.
These data suggest that altered DNA methylation is a novel pathomechanism for FTLD that is potentially amenable to targeted pharmacotherapy.
PMCID: PMC3893557  PMID: 24252647
5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; FTLD; Progranulin
21.  HPV-related methylation signature predicts survival in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2013;123(6):2488-2501.
High-risk types of human papilloma virus (HPV) are increasingly associated with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC). Strikingly, patients with HPV-positive OPSCC are highly curable with ionizing radiation and have better survival compared with HPV-negative patients, but the underlying molecular mechanisms remain poorly understood. We applied an array-based approach to monitor global changes in CpG island hypermethylation between HPV-negative and HPV-positive OPSCCs and identified a specific pattern of differentially methylated regions that critically depends on the presence of viral transcripts. HPV-related alterations were confirmed for the majority of candidate gene promoters by mass spectrometric, quantitative methylation analysis. There was a significant inverse correlation between promoter hypermethylation of ALDH1A2, OSR2, GATA4, GRIA4, and IRX4 and transcript levels. Interestingly, Kaplan-Meier analysis revealed that a combined promoter methylation pattern of low methylation levels in ALDH1A2 and OSR2 promoters and high methylation levels in GATA4, GRIA4, and IRX4 promoters was significantly correlated with improved survival in 3 independent patient cohorts. ALDH1A2 protein levels, determined by immunohistochemistry on tissue microarrays, confirmed the association with clinical outcome. In summary, our study highlights specific alterations in global gene promoter methylation in HPV-driven OPSCCs and identifies a signature that predicts the clinical outcome in OPSCCs.
PMCID: PMC3668826  PMID: 23635773
22.  Epigenetic Upregulation of lncRNAs at 13q14.3 in Leukemia Is Linked to the In Cis Downregulation of a Gene Cluster That Targets NF-kB 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(4):e1003373.
Non-coding RNAs are much more common than previously thought. However, for the vast majority of non-coding RNAs, the cellular function remains enigmatic. The two long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) genes DLEU1 and DLEU2 map to a critical region at chromosomal band 13q14.3 that is recurrently deleted in solid tumors and hematopoietic malignancies like chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). While no point mutations have been found in the protein coding candidate genes at 13q14.3, they are deregulated in malignant cells, suggesting an epigenetic tumor suppressor mechanism. We therefore characterized the epigenetic makeup of 13q14.3 in CLL cells and found histone modifications by chromatin-immunoprecipitation (ChIP) that are associated with activated transcription and significant DNA-demethylation at the transcriptional start sites of DLEU1 and DLEU2 using 5 different semi-quantitative and quantitative methods (aPRIMES, BioCOBRA, MCIp, MassARRAY, and bisulfite sequencing). These epigenetic aberrations were correlated with transcriptional deregulation of the neighboring candidate tumor suppressor genes, suggesting a coregulation in cis of this gene cluster. We found that the 13q14.3 genes in addition to their previously known functions regulate NF-kB activity, which we could show after overexpression, siRNA–mediated knockdown, and dominant-negative mutant genes by using Western blots with previously undescribed antibodies, by a customized ELISA as well as by reporter assays. In addition, we performed an unbiased screen of 810 human miRNAs and identified the miR-15/16 family of genes at 13q14.3 as the strongest inducers of NF-kB activity. In summary, the tumor suppressor mechanism at 13q14.3 is a cluster of genes controlled by two lncRNA genes that are regulated by DNA-methylation and histone modifications and whose members all regulate NF-kB. Therefore, the tumor suppressor mechanism in 13q14.3 underlines the role both of epigenetic aberrations and of lncRNA genes in human tumorigenesis and is an example of colocalization of a functionally related gene cluster.
Author Summary
Recent results suggest that genome regions not coding for proteins are read and transcribed into RNA. While the function for the majority of the resulting non-coding RNA molecules remains unclear, some of them are termed according to their length (typically 200–2,000 nucleotides) as long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) genes that play a role in regulating the activity of target genes. In most instances, this deregulation involves changes of so-called “epigenetic” marks associated with the DNA that are inherited to the cellular progeny without changes in the DNA sequence. Here we describe an example where two lncRNA genes (DLEU1 and DLEU2) are epigenetically deregulated together with a cluster of neighboring protein-coding tumor suppressor genes in almost all patients suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Such a common regulation suggests that the affected genes are involved in the same cellular pathway. In line with this notion, the 13q14.3 genes modulate the NF-kB signalling pathway, either inducing or repressing its activity. An activation of NF-kB has previously been shown to promote survival of the leukemic cells, underlining the importance of the 13q14.3 tumor suppressor locus for the pathomechanism of the disease.
PMCID: PMC3616974  PMID: 23593011
23.  Alterations in cardiac DNA methylation in human dilated cardiomyopathy 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2013;5(3):413-429.
Dilated cardiomyopathies (DCM) show remarkable variability in their age of onset, phenotypic presentation, and clinical course. Hence, disease mechanisms must exist that modify the occurrence and progression of DCM, either by genetic or epigenetic factors that may interact with environmental stimuli. In the present study, we examined genome-wide cardiac DNA methylation in patients with idiopathic DCM and controls. We detected methylation differences in pathways related to heart disease, but also in genes with yet unknown function in DCM or heart failure, namely Lymphocyte antigen 75 (LY75), Tyrosine kinase-type cell surface receptor HER3 (ERBB3), Homeobox B13 (HOXB13) and Adenosine receptor A2A (ADORA2A). Mass-spectrometric analysis and bisulphite-sequencing enabled confirmation of the observed DNA methylation changes in independent cohorts. Aberrant DNA methylation in DCM patients was associated with significant changes in LY75 and ADORA2A mRNA expression, but not in ERBB3 and HOXB13. In vivo studies of orthologous ly75 and adora2a in zebrafish demonstrate a functional role of these genes in adaptive or maladaptive pathways in heart failure.
PMCID: PMC3598081  PMID: 23341106
biomarker; dilated cardiomyopathy; DNA methylation; epigenetics; heart failure
24.  Germline Allele-Specific Expression of DAPK1 in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55261.
We previously reported a rare germline variant (c.1-6531) that resulted in allele–specific expression (ASE) of death-associated protein kinase 1 (DAPK1) and predisposition to chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). We investigated a cohort of CLL patients lacking this mutation for the presence of ASE of DAPK1. We developed a novel strategy that combines single-nucleotide primer extension (SNuPE) with MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, and detected germline DAPK1 ASE in 17 out of 120 (14.2%) CLL patients associated with a trend towards younger age at diagnosis. ASE was absent in 63 healthy controls. Germline cells of CLL patients with ASE showed increased levels of DNA methylation in the promoter region, however, neither genetic nor further epigenetic aberrations could be identified in the DAPK1 5′ upstream regulatory region, within distinct exons or in the 3′-UTR. We identified B-lymphoid malignancy related cell line models harboring allelic imbalance and found that allele-specific methylation in DAPK1 is associated with ASE. Our data indicate that ASE at the DAPK1 gene locus is a recurrent event, mediated by epigenetic mechanisms and potentially predisposing to CLL.
PMCID: PMC3557246  PMID: 23383130
25.  CDX2-driven leukemogenesis involves KLF4 repression and deregulated PPARγ signaling 
Aberrant expression of the homeodomain transcription factor CDX2 occurs in most cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and promotes leukemogenesis, making CDX2, in principle, an attractive therapeutic target. Conversely, CDX2 acts as a tumor suppressor in colonic epithelium. The effectors mediating the leukemogenic activity of CDX2 and the mechanism underlying its context-dependent properties are poorly characterized, and strategies for interfering with CDX2 function in AML remain elusive. We report data implicating repression of the transcription factor KLF4 as important for the oncogenic activity of CDX2, and demonstrate that CDX2 differentially regulates KLF4 in AML versus colon cancer cells through a mechanism that involves tissue-specific patterns of promoter binding and epigenetic modifications. Furthermore, we identified deregulation of the PPARγ signaling pathway as a feature of CDX2-associated AML and observed that PPARγ agonists derepressed KLF4 and were preferentially toxic to CDX2+ leukemic cells. These data delineate transcriptional programs associated with CDX2 expression in hematopoietic cells, provide insight into the antagonistic duality of CDX2 function in AML versus colon cancer, and suggest reactivation of KLF4 expression, through modulation of PPARγ signaling, as a therapeutic modality in a large proportion of AML patients.
PMCID: PMC3533294  PMID: 23202735

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