Final Report Summary - CHAMELEO (Cellular Hypoxia Alters DNA Methylation through Loss of Epigenome Oxidation)
Hypermethylation of tumor suppressor gene (TSG) promoters confers growth advantages to cancer cells, but how these changes arise is poorly understood. We demonstrate that tumor hypoxia reduces the activity of oxygen-dependent TET enzymes, which catalyze DNA de-methylation through 5-methylcytosine oxidation. This occurs independently of hypoxia-associated alterations in TET gene expression, basal metabolism, HIF activity or nuclear reactive oxygen species, but directly depends on oxygen shortage. Hypoxia-induced loss of TET activity increases hypermethylation at gene promoters in vitro. Also in patients, gene promoters are markedly more methylated in hypoxic than normoxic tumors. Affected genes are frequently involved in DNA repair, cell cycle regulation, angiogenesis and metastasis, indicating cellular selection of hypermethylation events. Overall, up to 50% of the tumor-associated hypermethylation is ascribable to hypoxia across various cancer types. Accordingly, spontaneous murine breast tumors become hypermethylated when rendered hypoxic through vessel pruning, whereas vessel normalisation rescues this effect. Tumor hypoxia thus acts as a novel regulator underlying DNA methylation.