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1.  Definition of a FoxA1 Cistrome that is Crucial for G1-S Phase Cell-Cycle Transit in Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer 
Cancer research  2011;71(21):6738-6748.
The enhancer pioneer transcription factor FoxA1 is a global mediator of steroid receptor (SR) action in hormone-dependent cancers. In castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), FoxA1 acts as an androgen receptor co-factor to drive G2-M phase cell-cycle transit. Here we describe a mechanistically distinct SR-independent role for FoxA1 in driving G1-S phase cell-cycle transit in CRPC. By comparing FoxA1 binding sites in prostate cancer cell genomes, we defined a co-dependent set of FoxA1-MYBL2 and FoxA1-CREB1 binding sites within the regulatory regions of the Cyclin E2 and E2F1 genes that are critical for CRPC growth. Binding at these sites upregulate the Cyclin E2 and Cyclin A2 genes in CRPC but not in earlier stage androgen-dependent prostate cancer (ADPC), establishing a stage-specific role for this pathway in CRPC growth. Mechanistic investigations indicated that FoxA1, MYBL2 or CREB1 induction of histone H3 acetylation facilitated nucleosome disruption as the basis for co-dependent transcriptional activation and G1-S phase cell-cycle transit. Our findings establish FoxA1 as a pivotal driver of the cell-cycle in CRPC which promotes G1-S phase transit as well as G2-M phase transit through two distinct mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC4081454  PMID: 21900400
FoxA1; cistrome; cell-cycle G1-S progression; castration-resistant prostate cancer
2.  Hypermethylation of miR-203 in endometrial carcinomas 
Gynecologic oncology  2014;133(2):340-345.
Aberrant expression of SOX4 in endometrial cancer has been identified and partially was contributed to hypermethylation of miR-129-2. Other miRNAs are suspected to influence SOX 4 as well. The current study seeks to identify other hypermethylated miRNAs that regulate SOX4 in endometrial carcinomas.
Methylation levels of miRNA promoter regions were measured by combined bisulfite restriction analysis (COBRA) and pyrosequencing assays. Gene expression was determined by RT-qPCR. Methylation level of a miRNA locus was corrected with clinicopathologic factors for 252 gynecological specimens.
In silico analysis identified 13 miRNA loci bound on the 3′-UTR of SOX4. Using COBRA assays, increased methylation of miR-203, miR-219-2, miR-596, and miR-618 was detected in endometrial cancer cells relative to those seen in a normal cell line and in normal endometrium. Transfection of a miR-203 mimic decreased SOX4 gene expression. Hypermethylation of miR-203 was detected in 52% of type I endometrioid endometrial carcinomas (n=131) but was not seen in any of 10 uninvolved normal endometria (P<0.001). Methylation status of miR-203 was significantly associated with microsatellite instability and MLH1 methylation in endometrial tumors (P<0.001). Furthermore, hypermethylation of miR-203 was found in endometrioid and clear endometrial subtype tumors, but not in cervical squamous cell and ovarian carcinomas.
Hypermethylation of miR-203 is a frequent event in endometrial carcinomas and is strongly associated with microsatellite instability and MLH1 methylation status. Thus, miR-203 methylation level might represent a marker for patients with endometrioid and clear endometrial sub-cancers.
PMCID: PMC4015135  PMID: 24530564
Endometrial carcinoma; DNA methylation; SOX4; miR-203
3.  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
4.  Three-tiered role of the pioneer factor GATA2 in promoting androgen-dependent gene expression in prostate cancer 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(6):3607-3622.
In prostate cancer, androgen receptor (AR) binding and androgen-responsive gene expression are defined by hormone-independent binding patterns of the pioneer factors FoxA1 and GATA2. Insufficient evidence of the mechanisms by which GATA2 contributes to this process precludes complete understanding of a key determinant of tissue-specific AR activity. Our observations suggest that GATA2 facilitates androgen-responsive gene expression by three distinct modes of action. By occupying novel binding sites within the AR gene locus, GATA2 positively regulates AR expression before and after androgen stimulation. Additionally, GATA2 engages AR target gene enhancers prior to hormone stimulation, producing an active and accessible chromatin environment via recruitment of the histone acetyltransferase p300. Finally, GATA2 functions in establishing and/or sustaining basal locus looping by recruiting the Mediator subunit MED1 in the absence of androgen. These mechanisms may contribute to the generally positive role of GATA2 in defining AR genome-wide binding patterns that determine androgen-responsive gene expression profiles. We also find that GATA2 and FoxA1 exhibit both independent and codependent co-occupancy of AR target gene enhancers. Identifying these determinants of AR transcriptional activity may provide a foundation for the development of future prostate cancer therapeutics that target pioneer factor function.
PMCID: PMC3973339  PMID: 24423874
5.  Computational analysis reveals a correlation of exon-skipping events with splicing, transcription and epigenetic factors 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(5):2856-2869.
Alternative splicing (AS), in higher eukaryotes, is one of the mechanisms of post-transcriptional regulation that generate multiple transcripts from the same gene. One particular mode of AS is the skipping event where an exon may be alternatively excluded or constitutively included in the resulting mature mRNA. Both transcript isoforms from this skipping event site, i.e. in which the exon is either included (inclusion isoform) or excluded (skipping isoform), are typically present in one cell, and maintain a subtle balance that is vital to cellular function and dynamics. However, how the prevailing conditions dictate which isoform is expressed and what biological factors might influence the regulation of this process remain areas requiring further exploration. In this study, we have developed a novel computational method, graph-based exon-skipping scanner (GESS), for de novo detection of skipping event sites from raw RNA-seq reads without prior knowledge of gene annotations, as well as for determining the dominant isoform generated from such sites. We have applied our method to publicly available RNA-seq data in GM12878 and K562 cells from the ENCODE consortium and experimentally validated several skipping site predictions by RT-PCR. Furthermore, we integrated other sequencing-based genomic data to investigate the impact of splicing activities, transcription factors (TFs) and epigenetic histone modifications on splicing outcomes. Our computational analysis found that splice sites within the skipping-isoform-dominated group (SIDG) tended to exhibit weaker MaxEntScan-calculated splice site strength around middle, ‘skipping’, exons compared to those in the inclusion-isoform-dominated group (IIDG). We further showed the positional preference pattern of splicing factors, characterized by enrichment in the intronic splice sites immediately bordering middle exons. Finally, our analysis suggested that different epigenetic factors may introduce a variable obstacle in the process of exon–intron boundary establishment leading to skipping events.
PMCID: PMC3950716  PMID: 24369421
6.  Activation of Silenced Tumor Suppressor Genes in Prostate Cancer Cells by a Novel Energy Restriction-Mimetic Agent 
The Prostate  2012;72(16):10.1002/pros.22530.
Targeting tumor metabolism by energy restriction-mimetic agents (ERMAs) has emerged as a strategy for cancer therapy/prevention. Evidence suggests a mechanistic link between ERMA-mediated antitumor effects and epigenetic gene regulation.
Microarray analysis showed that a novel thiazolidinedione-derived ERMA, CG-12, and glucose deprivation could suppress DNA methyltransferase (DNMT)1 expression and reactivate DNA methylation-silenced tumor suppressor genes in LNCaP prostate cancer cells. Thus, we investigated the effects of a potent CG-12 derivative, CG-5, vis-à-vis 2-deoxyglucose, glucose deprivation and/or 5-aza-deoxycytidine, on DNMT isoform expression (Western blotting, RT-PCR), DNMT1 transcriptional activation (luciferase reporter assay), and expression of genes frequently hypermethylated in prostate cancer (quantitative real-time PCR). Promoter methylation was assessed by pyrosequencing analysis. SiRNA-mediated knockdown and ectopic expression of DNMT1 were used to validate DNMT1 as a target of CG-5.
CG-5 and glucose deprivation upregulated the expression of DNA methylation-silenced tumor suppressor genes, including GADD45a, GADD45b, IGFBP3, LAMB3, BASP1, GPX3, and GSTP1, but also downregulated methylated tumor/invasion-promoting genes, including CD44, S100A4, and TACSTD2. In contrast, 5-aza-deoxycytidine induced global reactivation of these genes. CG-5 mediated these epigenetic effects by transcriptional repression of DNMT1, which was associated with reduced expression of Sp1 and E2F1. SiRNA-mediated knockdown and ectopic expression of DNMT1 corroborated DNMT1's role in the modulation of gene expression by CG-5. Pyrosequencing revealed differential effects of CG-5 versus 5-aza-deoxycytidine on promoter methylation in these genes.
These findings reveal a previously uncharacterized epigenetic effect of ERMAs on DNA methylation-silenced tumor suppressor genes, which may foster novel strategies for prostate cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3867924  PMID: 22539223
energy restriction-mimetic agent; prostate cancer; energy restriction; DNA methyltransferases; epigenetics
7.  Epigenetic Repression of microRNA-129-2 Leads to Overexpression of SOX4 Oncogene in Endometrial Cancer 
Cancer research  2009;69(23):9038-9046.
Genetic amplification, mutation, and translocation are known to play a causal role in the up-regulation of an oncogene in cancer cells. Here we report an emerging role of microRNA, the epigenetic deregulation of which may also lead to this oncogenic activation. SOX4, an oncogene belonging to the SRY-related high-mobility-group-box family, was found to be over-expressed (P<0.005) in endometrial tumors (n=74) compared with uninvolved controls (n=20). This gene is computationally predicted to be the target of a microRNA, miR-129-2. When compared to the matched endometria, the expression of miR-129-2 was lost in 27 of 31 primary endometrial tumors that also showed a concomitant gain of SOX4 expression (P<0.001). This inverse relationship is associated with hypermethylation of the miR-129-2 CpG island, which was observed in endometrial cancer cell lines (n=6) and 68% of 117 endometrioid endometrial tumors analyzed. Reactivation of miR-129-2 in cancer cells by pharmacological induction of histone acetylation and DNA demethylation resulted in decreased SOX4 expression. In addition, restoration of miR-129-2 by cell transfection led to decreased SOX4 expression and reduced proliferation of cancer cells. Further analysis found a significant correlation of hypermethylated miR-129-2 with microsatellite instability and MLH1 methylation status (P<0.001), and poor overall survival (P<0.039) in patients. Therefore, these results imply that the aberrant expression of SOX4 is, in part, caused by epigenetic repression of miR-129-2 in endometrial cancer. Unlike the notion that promoter hypomethylation may up-regulate an oncogene, we present a new paradigm in which hypermethylation-mediated silencing of a microRNA de-represses its oncogenic target in cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC2789184  PMID: 19887623
DNA methylation; epigenetics; miR-129-2; SOX4
8.  Xenoestrogen-Induced Epigenetic Repression of microRNA-9-3 in Breast Epithelial Cells 
Cancer research  2009;69(14):5936-5945.
Early exposure to xenoestrogens may predispose to breast cancer risk later in adult life. It is likely that long-lived, self-regenerating epithelial progenitor cells are more susceptible to these exposure injuries over time and transmit the injured memory through epigenetic mechanisms to their differentiated progeny. Here, we used progenitor-containing mammospheres as an in vitro exposure model to study this epigenetic effect. Expression profiling identified that, relative to control cells, 9.1% of microRNAs (82 of 898 loci) were altered in epithelial progeny derived from mammospheres exposed to a synthetic estrogen, diethylstilbestrol. Repressive chromatin marks, trimethyl Lys27 of histone H3 (H3K27me3) and dimethyl Lys9 of histone H3 (H3K9me2), were found at a down-regulated locus, miR-9-3, in epithelial cells preexposed to diethylstilbestrol. This was accompanied by recruitment of DNA methyltransferase 1 that caused an aberrant increase in DNA methylation of its promoter CpG island in mammosphere-derived epithelial cells on diethylstilbestrol preexposure. Functional analyses suggest that miR-9-3 plays a role in the p53-related apoptotic pathway. Epigenetic silencing of this gene, therefore, reduces this cellular function and promotes the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Promoter hypermethylation of this microRNA may be a hallmark for early breast cancer development, and restoration of its expression by epigenetic and microRNA-based therapies is another viable option for future treatment of this disease.
PMCID: PMC2855843  PMID: 19549897
9.  Identification of candidate epigenetic biomarkers for ovarian cancer detection 
Oncology reports  2009;22(4):853-861.
Ovarian cancer ranks the most lethal among gynecologic neoplasms in women. To develop potential bio-markers for diagnosis, we have identified five novel genes (CYP39A1, GTF2A1, FOXD4L4, EBP, and HAAO) that are hypermethylated in ovarian tumors, compared with the non-malignant normal ovarian surface epithelia, using the quantitative methylation-specific polymerase chain reactions. Interestingly enough, multivariate Cox regression analysis has identified hypermethylation of CYP39A1 correlated with an increase rate of relapsing (P=0.032, hazard ratio >1). Concordant hypermethylation in at least three loci was observed in 50 out of 55 (91%) of ovarian tumors examined. The test sensitivity and specificity were assessed to be 96 and 67% for CYP39A1; 95 and 88% for GTF2A1; 93 and 67% for FOXD4L4; 81 and 67% for EBP; 89 and 82% for HAAO, respectively. Our data have identified, for the first time, GTF2A1 alone, or GTF2A1 plus HAAO are excellent candidate biomarkers for detecting this disease. Moreover, the known functions of these gene products further implicate dys-regulated transcriptional control, cholesterol metabolism, or synthesis of quinolinic acids, may play important roles in attributing to ovarian neoplasm. Molecular therapies, by reversing the aberrant epigenomes using inhibitory agents or by abrogating the upstream signaling pathways that convey the epigenomic perturbations, may be developed into promising treatment regimens.
PMCID: PMC2829240  PMID: 19724865
ovarian cancer; epigenetics; DNA methylation; biomarkers; quantitative methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction
10.  Breast Cancer-associated Fibroblasts Confer AKT1-mediated Epigenetic Silencing of Cystatin M in Epithelial Cells 
Cancer research  2008;68(24):10257.
The interplay between histone modifications and promoter hypermethylation provides a causative explanation for epigenetic gene silencing in cancer. Less is known about the upstream initiators that direct this process. Here, we report that the Cystatin M (CST6) tumor suppressor gene is concurrently down-regulated with other loci in breast epithelial cells co-cultured with cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Promoter hypermethylation of CST6 is associated with aberrant AKT1 activation in epithelial cells, as well as the disabled INNP4B regulator resulted from the suppression by CAFs. Repressive chromatin, marked by trimethyl-H3K27 and dimethyl-H3K9, and de novo DNA methylation is established at the promoter. The findings suggest that microenvironmental stimuli are triggers in this epigenetic cascade, leading to the long-term silencing of CST6 in breast tumors. Our present findings implicate a causal mechanism defining how tumor stromal fibroblasts support neoplastic progression by manipulating the epigenome of mammary epithelial cells. The result also highlights the importance of direct cell-cell contract between epithelial cells and the surrounding fibroblasts that confer this epigenetic perturbation. Since this two-way interaction is anticipated, the described co-culture system can be used to determine the effect of epithelial factors on fibroblasts in future studies.
PMCID: PMC2821873  PMID: 19074894
11.  Integrated analysis of genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression profiles in molecular subtypes of breast cancer 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(18):8464-8474.
Aberrant DNA methylation of CpG islands, CpG island shores and first exons is known to play a key role in the altered gene expression patterns in all human cancers. To date, a systematic study on the effect of DNA methylation on gene expression using high resolution data has not been reported. In this study, we conducted an integrated analysis of MethylCap-sequencing data and Affymetrix gene expression microarray data for 30 breast cancer cell lines representing different breast tumor phenotypes. As well-developed methods for the integrated analysis do not currently exist, we created a series of four different analysis methods. On the computational side, our goal is to develop methylome data analysis protocols for the integrated analysis of DNA methylation and gene expression data on the genome scale. On the cancer biology side, we present comprehensive genome-wide methylome analysis results for differentially methylated regions and their potential effect on gene expression in 30 breast cancer cell lines representing three molecular phenotypes, luminal, basal A and basal B. Our integrated analysis demonstrates that methylation status of different genomic regions may play a key role in establishing transcriptional patterns in molecular subtypes of human breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3794600  PMID: 23887935
12.  LOcating Non-Unique matched Tags (LONUT) to Improve the Detection of the Enriched Regions for ChIP-seq Data 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67788.
One big limitation of computational tools for analyzing ChIP-seq data is that most of them ignore non-unique tags (NUTs) that match the human genome even though NUTs comprise up to 60% of all raw tags in ChIP-seq data. Effectively utilizing these NUTs would increase the sequencing depth and allow a more accurate detection of enriched binding sites, which in turn could lead to more precise and significant biological interpretations. In this study, we have developed a computational tool, LOcating Non-Unique matched Tags (LONUT), to improve the detection of enriched regions from ChIP-seq data. Our LONUT algorithm applies a linear and polynomial regression model to establish an empirical score (ES) formula by considering two influential factors, the distance of NUTs to peaks identified using uniquely matched tags (UMTs) and the enrichment score for those peaks resulting in each NUT being assigned to a unique location on the reference genome. The newly located tags from the set of NUTs are combined with the original UMTs to produce a final set of combined matched tags (CMTs). LONUT was tested on many different datasets representing three different characteristics of biological data types. The detected sites were validated using de novo motif discovery and ChIP-PCR. We demonstrate the specificity and accuracy of LONUT and show that our program not only improves the detection of binding sites for ChIP-seq, but also identifies additional binding sites.
PMCID: PMC3692479  PMID: 23825685
13.  CMS: A Web-Based System for Visualization and Analysis of Genome-Wide Methylation Data of Human Cancers 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60980.
DNA methylation of promoter CpG islands is associated with gene suppression, and its unique genome-wide profiles have been linked to tumor progression. Coupled with high-throughput sequencing technologies, it can now efficiently determine genome-wide methylation profiles in cancer cells. Also, experimental and computational technologies make it possible to find the functional relationship between cancer-specific methylation patterns and their clinicopathological parameters.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Cancer methylome system (CMS) is a web-based database application designed for the visualization, comparison and statistical analysis of human cancer-specific DNA methylation. Methylation intensities were obtained from MBDCap-sequencing, pre-processed and stored in the database. 191 patient samples (169 tumor and 22 normal specimen) and 41 breast cancer cell-lines are deposited in the database, comprising about 6.6 billion uniquely mapped sequence reads. This provides comprehensive and genome-wide epigenetic portraits of human breast cancer and endometrial cancer to date. Two views are proposed for users to better understand methylation structure at the genomic level or systemic methylation alteration at the gene level. In addition, a variety of annotation tracks are provided to cover genomic information. CMS includes important analytic functions for interpretation of methylation data, such as the detection of differentially methylated regions, statistical calculation of global methylation intensities, multiple gene sets of biologically significant categories, interactivity with UCSC via custom-track data. We also present examples of discoveries utilizing the framework.
CMS provides visualization and analytic functions for cancer methylome datasets. A comprehensive collection of datasets, a variety of embedded analytic functions and extensive applications with biological and translational significance make this system powerful and unique in cancer methylation research. CMS is freely accessible at:
PMCID: PMC3632540  PMID: 23630576
14.  Genome-wide analysis uncovers high frequency, strong differential chromosomal interactions and their associated epigenetic patterns in E2-mediated gene regulation 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:70.
An emerging Hi-C protocol has the ability to probe three-dimensional (3D) architecture and capture chromatin interactions in a genome-wide scale. It provides informative results to address how chromatin organization changes contribute to disease/tumor occurrence and progression in response to stimulation of environmental chemicals or hormones.
In this study, using MCF7 cells as a model system, we found estrogen stimulation significantly impact chromatin interactions, leading to alteration of gene regulation and the associated histone modification states. Many chromosomal interaction regions at different levels of interaction frequency were identified. In particular, the top 10 hot regions with the highest interaction frequency are enriched with breast cancer specific genes. Furthermore, four types of E2-mediated strong differential (gain- or loss-) chromosomal (intra- or inter-) interactions were classified, in which the number of gain-chromosomal interactions is less than the number of loss-chromosomal interactions upon E2 stimulation. Finally, by integrating with eight histone modification marks, DNA methylation, regulatory elements regions, ERα and Pol-II binding activities, associations between epigenetic patterns and high chromosomal interaction frequency were revealed in E2-mediated gene regulation.
The work provides insight into the effect of chromatin interaction on E2/ERα regulated downstream genes in breast cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3599885  PMID: 23368971
15.  Hierarchical Modularity in ERα Transcriptional Network Is Associated with Distinct Functions and Implicates Clinical Outcomes 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:875.
Recent genome-wide profiling reveals highly complex regulation networks among ERα and its targets. We integrated estrogen (E2)-stimulated time-series ERα ChIP-seq and gene expression data to identify the ERα-centered transcription factor (TF) hubs and their target genes, and inferred the time-variant hierarchical network structures using a Bayesian multivariate modeling approach. With its recurrent motif patterns, we determined three embedded regulatory modules from the ERα core transcriptional network. The GO analyses revealed the distinct biological function associated with each of three embedded modules. The survival analysis showed the genes in each module were able to render a significant survival correlation in breast cancer patient cohorts. In summary, our Bayesian statistical modeling and modularity analysis not only reveals the dynamic properties of the ERα-centered regulatory network and associated distinct biological functions, but also provides a reliable and effective genomic analytical approach for the analysis of dynamic regulatory network for any given TF.
PMCID: PMC3500769  PMID: 23166858
16.  Cooperativity of Stress-Responsive Transcription Factors in Core Hypoxia-Inducible Factor Binding Regions 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45708.
The transcriptional response driven by Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is central to the adaptation to oxygen restriction. Despite recent characterization of genome-wide HIF DNA binding locations and hypoxia-regulated transcripts in different cell types, the molecular bases of HIF target selection remain unresolved. Herein, we combined multi-level experimental data and computational predictions to identify sequence motifs that may contribute to HIF target selectivity. We obtained a core set of bona fide HIF binding regions by integrating multiple HIF1 DNA binding and hypoxia expression profiling datasets. This core set exhibits evolutionarily conserved binding regions and is enriched in functional responses to hypoxia. Computational prediction of enriched transcription factor binding sites identified sequence motifs corresponding to several stress-responsive transcription factors, such as activator protein 1 (AP1), cAMP response element-binding (CREB), or CCAAT-enhancer binding protein (CEBP). Experimental validations on HIF-regulated promoters suggest a functional role of the identified motifs in modulating HIF-mediated transcription. Accordingly, transcriptional targets of these factors are over-represented in a sorted list of hypoxia-regulated genes. Altogether, our results implicate cooperativity among stress-responsive transcription factors in fine-tuning the HIF transcriptional response.
PMCID: PMC3454324  PMID: 23029193
17.  Chromatin Remodeling in Mammary Gland Differentiation and Breast Tumorigenesis 
DNA methylation and histone modifications have essential roles in remodeling chromatin structure of genes necessary for multi-lineage differentiation of mammary stem/progenitor cells. The role of this well-defined epigenetic programming is to heritably maintain transcriptional plasticity of these loci over multiple cell divisions in the differentiated progeny. Epigenetic events can be deregulated in progenitor cells chronically exposed to xenoestrogen or inflammatory microenvironment. In addition, epigenetically mediated silencing of genes associated with tumor suppression can take place, resulting in clonal proliferation of undifferentiated or semidifferentiated cells. Alternatively, microRNAs that negatively regulate the expression of their protein-coding targets may become epigenetically repressed, leading to oncogenic expression of these genes. Here we further discuss interactions between DNA methylation and histone modifications that have significant contributions to the differentiation of mammary stem/progenitor cells and to tumor initiation and progression.
Mammary gland stem cells and their progeny display characteristic DNA methylation and histone modification patterns. Carcinogens and inflammation can disrupt such epigenetic programs, leading to tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC2926750  PMID: 20610549
18.  Empirical Bayes Model Comparisons for Differential Methylation Analysis 
A number of empirical Bayes models (each with different statistical distribution assumptions) have now been developed to analyze differential DNA methylation using high-density oligonucleotide tiling arrays. However, it remains unclear which model performs best. For example, for analysis of differentially methylated regions for conservative and functional sequence characteristics (e.g., enrichment of transcription factor-binding sites (TFBSs)), the sensitivity of such analyses, using various empirical Bayes models, remains unclear. In this paper, five empirical Bayes models were constructed, based on either a gamma distribution or a log-normal distribution, for the identification of differential methylated loci and their cell division—(1, 3, and 5) and drug-treatment-(cisplatin) dependent methylation patterns. While differential methylation patterns generated by log-normal models were enriched with numerous TFBSs, we observed almost no TFBS-enriched sequences using gamma assumption models. Statistical and biological results suggest log-normal, rather than gamma, empirical Bayes model distribution to be a highly accurate and precise method for differential methylation microarray analysis. In addition, we presented one of the log-normal models for differential methylation analysis and tested its reproducibility by simulation study. We believe this research to be the first extensive comparison of statistical modeling for the analysis of differential DNA methylation, an important biological phenomenon that precisely regulates gene transcription.
PMCID: PMC3432337  PMID: 22956892
19.  Estrogen-mediated epigenetic repression of the imprinted gene cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1C in breast cancer cells 
Carcinogenesis  2011;32(6):812-821.
While tumor suppressor genes frequently undergo epigenetic silencing in cancer, how the instructions directing this transcriptional repression are transmitted in cancer cells remain largely unclear. Expression of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1C (CDKN1C), an imprinted gene on chromosomal band 11 p15.5, is reduced or lost in the majority of breast cancers. Here, we report that CDKN1C is suppressed by estrogen through epigenetic mechanisms involving the chromatin-interacting noncoding RNA KCNQ1OT1 and CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF). Activation of estrogen signaling reduced CDKN1C expression 3-fold (P < 0.001) and established repressive histone modifications at the 5′ regulatory region of the locus. These events were concomitant with induction of KCNQ1OT1 expression as well as increased recruitment of CTCF to both the distal KCNQ1OT1 promoter-associated imprinting control region (ICR) and the CDKN1C locus. Transient depletion of CTCF by small interfering RNA increased CDKN1C expression and significantly reduced the estrogen-mediated repression of CDKN1C. Further studies in breast cancer cell lines indicated that the epigenetic silencing of CDKN1C occurs in part as the result of genetic loss of the inactive methylated 11p15.5 ICR allele (R2 = 0.612, P < 0.001). We also found a novel cis-encoded antisense transcript, CDKN1C-AS, which is induced by estrogen signaling following pharmacologic inhibition of DNA methyltransferase and histone deacetylase activity. Forced expression of CDKN1C-AS was capable of repressing endogenous CDKN1C in vivo. Our findings suggest that in addition to promoter hypermethylation, epigenetic repression of tumor suppressor genes by CTCF and noncoding RNA transcripts could be more common and important than previously understood.
PMCID: PMC3106431  PMID: 21304052
20.  Aberrant TGFβ/SMAD4 signaling contributes to epigenetic silencing of a putative tumor suppressor, RunX1T1, in ovarian cancer 
Epigenetics  2011;6(6):727-739.
Aberrant TGFβ signaling pathway may alter the expression of down-stream targets and promotes ovarian carcinogenesis. However, the mechanism of this impairment is not fully understood. Our previous study identified RunX1T1 as a putative SMAD4 target in an immortalized ovarian surface epithelial cell line, IOSE. In this study, we report that transcription of RunX1T1 was confirmed to be positively regulated by SMAD4 in IOSE cells and epigenetically silenced in a panel of ovarian cancer cell lines by promoter hypermethylation and histone methylation at H3 lysine 9. SMAD4 depletion increased repressive histone modifications of RunX1T1 promoter without affecting promoter methylation in IOSE cells. Epigenetic treatment can restore RunX1T1 expression by reversing its epigenetic status in MCP 3 ovarian cancer cells. When transiently treated with a demethylating agent, the expression of RunX1T1 was partially restored in MCP 3 cells, but gradual re-silencing through promoter re-methylation was observed after the treatment. Interestingly, SMAD4 knockdown accelerated this re-silencing process, suggesting that normal TGFβ signaling is essential for the maintenance of RunX1T1 expression. In vivo analysis confirmed that hypermethylation of RunX1T1 was detected in 35.7% (34/95) of ovarian tumors with high clinical stages (p = 0.035) and in 83% (5/6) of primary ovarian cancer-initiating cells. Additionally, concurrent methylation of RunX1T1 and another SMAD4 target, FBXO32 which was previously found to be hypermethylated in ovarian cancer was observed in this same sample cohort (p < 0.05). Restoration of RunX1T1 inhibited cancer cell growth. Taken together, dysregulated TGFβ/SMAD4 signaling may lead to epigenetic silencing of a putative tumor suppressor, RunX1T1, during ovarian carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3359493  PMID: 21540640
ovarian cancer; epigenetics; TGFβ; RunX1T1
21.  The Influence of cis-Regulatory Elements on DNA Methylation Fidelity 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e32928.
It is now established that, as compared to normal cells, the cancer cell genome has an overall inverse distribution of DNA methylation (“methylome”), i.e., predominant hypomethylation and localized hypermethylation, within “CpG islands” (CGIs). Moreover, although cancer cells have reduced methylation “fidelity” and genomic instability, accurate maintenance of aberrant methylomes that underlie malignant phenotypes remains necessary. However, the mechanism(s) of cancer methylome maintenance remains largely unknown. Here, we assessed CGI methylation patterns propagated over 1, 3, and 5 divisions of A2780 ovarian cancer cells, concurrent with exposure to the DNA cross-linking chemotherapeutic cisplatin, and observed cell generation-successive increases in total hyper- and hypo-methylated CGIs. Empirical Bayesian modeling revealed five distinct modes of methylation propagation: (1) heritable (i.e., unchanged) high- methylation (1186 probe loci in CGI microarray); (2) heritable (i.e., unchanged) low-methylation (286 loci); (3) stochastic hypermethylation (i.e., progressively increased, 243 loci); (4) stochastic hypomethylation (i.e., progressively decreased, 247 loci); and (5) considerable “random” methylation (582 loci). These results support a “stochastic model” of DNA methylation equilibrium deriving from the efficiency of two distinct processes, methylation maintenance and de novo methylation. A role for cis-regulatory elements in methylation fidelity was also demonstrated by highly significant (p<2.2×10−5) enrichment of transcription factor binding sites in CGI probe loci showing heritably high (118 elements) and low (47 elements) methylation, and also in loci demonstrating stochastic hyper-(30 elements) and hypo-(31 elements) methylation. Notably, loci having “random” methylation heritability displayed nearly no enrichment. These results demonstrate an influence of cis-regulatory elements on the nonrandom propagation of both strictly heritable and stochastically heritable CGIs.
PMCID: PMC3295790  PMID: 22412954
22.  Tumour-specific methylation of PTPRG intron 1 locus in sporadic and Lynch syndrome colorectal cancer 
DNA methylation is a hallmark in a subset of right-sided colorectal cancers. Methylation-based screening may improve prevention and survival rate for this type of cancer, which is often clinically asymptomatic in the early stages. We aimed to discover prognostic or diagnostic biomarkers for colon cancer by comparing DNA methylation profiles of right-sided colon tumours and paired normal colon mucosa using an 8.5 k CpG island microarray. We identified a diagnostic CpG-rich region, located in the first intron of the protein-tyrosine phosphatase gamma gene (PTPRG) gene, with altered methylation already in the adenoma stage, that is, before the carcinoma transition. Validation of this region in an additional cohort of 103 sporadic colorectal tumours and 58 paired normal mucosa tissue samples showed 94% sensitivity and 96% specificity. Interestingly, comparable results were obtained when screening a cohort of Lynch syndrome-associated cancers. Functional studies showed that PTPRG intron 1 methylation did not directly affect PTPRG expression, however, the methylated region overlapped with a binding site of the insulator protein CTCF. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) showed that methylation of the locus was associated with absence of CTCF binding. Methylation-associated changes in CTCF binding to PTPRG intron 1 could have implications on tumour gene expression by enhancer blocking, chromosome loop formation or abrogation of its insulator function. The high sensitivity and specificity for the PTPRG intron 1 methylation in both sporadic and hereditary colon cancers support biomarker potential for early detection of colon cancer.
PMCID: PMC3061992  PMID: 21150880
PTPRG; colorectal cancer; CTCF; DNA methylation; Lynch syndrome
23.  Epigenetic Silencing Mediated Through Activated PI3K/AKT Signaling in Breast Cancer 
Cancer research  2011;71(5):1752-1762.
Trimethylation of histone 3 lysine 27 (H3K27me3) is a critical epigenetic mark for the maintenance of gene silencing. Additional accumulation of DNA methylation in target loci is thought to cooperatively support this epigenetic silencing during tumorigenesis. However, molecular mechanisms underlying the complex interplay between the two marks remain to be explored. Here we demonstrate that activation of PI3K/AKT signaling can be a trigger of this epigenetic processing at many downstream target genes. We also find that DNA methylation can be acquired at the same loci in cancer cells, thereby reinforcing permanent repression in those losing the H3K27me3 mark. Because of a link between PI3K/AKT signaling and epigenetic alterations, we conducted epigenetic therapies in conjunction with the signaling-targeted treatment. These combined treatments synergistically relieve gene silencing and suppress cancer cell growth in vitro and in xenografts. The new finding has important implications for improving targeted cancer therapies in the future.
PMCID: PMC3048165  PMID: 21216892
Epigenetic silencing; H3K27me3; DNA methylation; PI3K/AKT signaling; breast cancer
24.  Modulation of Genetic and Epigenetic Biomarkers of Colorectal Cancer in Humans by Black Raspberries: A Phase I Pilot Study 
This study evaluated the effects of black raspberries (BRBs) on biomarkers of tumor development in the human colon and rectum including methylation of relevant tumor suppressor genes, cell proliferation, apoptosis, angiogenesis and expression of Wnt pathway genes.
Experimental Design
Biopsies of adjacent normal tissues and colorectal adenocarcinomas were taken from 20 patients before and after oral consumption of BRB powder (60g/day) for 1-to-9 wks. Methylation status of promoter regions of five tumor suppressor genes was quantified. Protein expression of DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) and genes associated with cell proliferation, apoptosis, angiogenesis, and Wnt signaling were measured.
The methylation of three Wnt inhibitors, SFRP2, SFRP5, and WIF1, upstream genes in Wnt pathway, and PAX6a, a developmental regulator, was modulated in a protective direction by BRBs in normal tissues and in colorectal tumors only in patients who received an average of 4 wks of BRB treatment, but not in all 20 patients with 1-to-9 wks of BRB treatment. This was associated with decreased expression of DNMT1. BRBs modulated expression of genes associated with Wnt pathway, proliferation, apoptosis and angiogenesis in a protective direction.
These data provide evidence of the ability of BRBs to demethylate tumor suppressor genes and to modulate other biomarkers of tumor development in the human colon and rectum. While demethylation of genes did not occur in colorectal tissues from all treated patients, the positive results with the secondary endpoints suggest that additional studies of BRBs for the prevention of colorectal cancer in humans now appear warranted.
PMCID: PMC3076314  PMID: 21123457
25.  Epigenetic influences of low-dose bisphenol A in primary human breast epithelial cells 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2010;248(2):111-121.
Substantial evidence indicates that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) during early development may increase breast cancer risk later in life. The changes may persist into puberty and adulthood, suggesting an epigenetic process being imposed in differentiated breast epithelial cells. The molecular mechanisms by which early memory of BPA exposure is imprinted in breast progenitor cells and then passed onto their epithelial progeny are not well understood. The aim of this study was to examine epigenetic changes in breast epithelial cells treated with low-dose BPA. We also investigated the effect of BPA on the ERα signaling pathway and global gene expression profiles. Compared to control cells, nuclear internalization of ERα was observed in epithelial cells preexposed to BPA. We identified 170 genes with similar expression changes in response to BPA. Functional analysis confirms that gene suppression was mediated in part through an ERα-dependent pathway. As a result of exposure to BPA or other estrogen-like chemicals, the expression of lysosomal-associated membrane protein 3 (LAMP3) became epigenetically silenced in breast epithelial cells. Furthermore, increased DNA methylation in the LAMP3 CpG island was this repressive mark preferentially occurred in ERα-positive breast tumors. These results suggest that the in vitro system developed in our laboratory is a valuable tool for exposure studies of BPA and other xenoestrogens in human cells. Individual and geographical differences may contribute to altered patterns of gene expression and DNA methylation in susceptible loci. Combination of our exposure model with epigenetic analysis and other biochemical assays can give insight into the heritable effect of low-dose BPA in human cells.
PMCID: PMC2946518  PMID: 20678512
Bisphenol A; Estrogen; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Breast cancer

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