DNA hypermethylation associated with upregulated gene expression in prostate cancer demonstrates the diversity of epigenetic regulation
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionBMC Medical Genomics. 2020, 13 (1), 6-?. 10.1186/s12920-020-0657-6
Background Prostate cancer (PCa) has the highest incidence rates of cancers in men in western countries. Unlike several other types of cancer, PCa has few genetic drivers, which has led researchers to look for additional epigenetic and transcriptomic contributors to PCa development and progression. Especially datasets on DNA methylation, the most commonly studied epigenetic marker, have recently been measured and analysed in several PCa patient cohorts. DNA methylation is most commonly associated with downregulation of gene expression. However, positive associations of DNA methylation to gene expression have also been reported, suggesting a more diverse mechanism of epigenetic regulation. Such additional complexity could have important implications for understanding prostate cancer development but has not been studied at a genome-wide scale. Results In this study, we have compared three sets of genome-wide single-site DNA methylation data from 870 PCa and normal tissue samples with multi-cohort gene expression data from 1117 samples, including 532 samples where DNA methylation and gene expression have been measured on the exact same samples. Genes were classified according to their corresponding methylation and expression profiles. A large group of hypermethylated genes was robustly associated with increased gene expression (UPUP group) in all three methylation datasets. These genes demonstrated distinct patterns of correlation between DNA methylation and gene expression compared to the genes showing the canonical negative association between methylation and expression (UPDOWN group). This indicates a more diversified role of DNA methylation in regulating gene expression than previously appreciated. Moreover, UPUP and UPDOWN genes were associated with different compartments — UPUP genes were related to the structures in nucleus, while UPDOWN genes were linked to extracellular features. Conclusion We identified a robust association between hypermethylation and upregulation of gene expression when comparing samples from prostate cancer and normal tissue. These results challenge the classical view where DNA methylation is always associated with suppression of gene expression, which underlines the importance of considering corresponding expression data when assessing the downstream regulatory effect of DNA methylation.