Profiling and Targeting Microenvironment-Induced Changes in the Cancer Epigenome




Skowronski, Karolina

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University of Guelph


The tumor microenvironment consists of multiple cells types, including endothelial cells that line the tumor vasculature. Tumor vasculature is often abnormal and results in development of tissue ischemia, another contributing factor to the tumor microenvironment. Previous studies have demonstrated that ischemia influences epigenetic programming, but the mechanisms remained unclear and required further investigation. First, we profiled DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) expression and activity in human colorectal cancer cells (HCT116) under hypoxia or hypoglycaemia (mimicking ischemia). We found that DNMT1 and DNMT3b were significantly downregulated by hypoxia and hypoglycaemia, and DNMT3a was downregulated by hypoglycaemia. However, DNMT1 downregulation was p53-dependent. To examine if the changes in DNMT expression and activity translated to changes in DNA methylation patterns, we used bisulfite sequencing and examined the promoter region of p16. Hypoglycaemia significantly demethylated this region in both p53 wild-type and p53-null cells. Next, we used a genome-wide approach to discover what additional genes are hypomethylated by ischemia. Methylated DNA was immunoprecipitated and analysed with an Affymetrix promoter array, in parallel with an expression array. Ingenuity pathway analysis software revealed that a significant proportion of genes which were hypomethylated and upregulated were involved in cellular movement, including PLAUR and CYR61. We believe that hypoxia and hypoglycaemia may be driving changes in DNA methylation through dysregulation of DNMTs, resulting in cells acquiring a more mobile phenotype in ischemic regions. DNMT and histone deacetylase inhibitors are commonly used in research and some cancer therapies. Modifying epigenetic patterning with these inhibitors has been widely studied in cancer cells, but only briefly explored in the tumor’s vascular endothelium. We profiled the effect of these inhibitors on endothelial cell (EC) behaviour, and tested if combining them with a targeted anti-angiogenic therapy would augment the inhibition of angiogenesis. When the DNMT inhibitor 5-aza-2’-deoxycytidine was combined with sunitinib, inhibition of EC proliferation was enhanced compared to treatment with sunitinib alone. EC migration was also inhibited by the combination of these two inhibitors, but not in an additive manner. These studies have improved our understanding of how altering epigenetic patterning with ischemia and therapeutic inhibitors can influence colorectal cancer and endothelial cell behaviour.



Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Hypoxia, Hypoglycaemia, Tumor microenvironment, Colorectal cancer, Anti-angiogenic therapy, Endothelial cells