Aging of preleukemic thymocytes drives CpG island hypermethylation in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
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Cancer cells display DNA hypermethylation at specific CpG islands in comparison to their normal healthy counterparts, but the mechanism that drives this so-called CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) remains poorly understood. Here, we show that CpG island methylation in human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) mainly occurs at promoters of Polycomb Repressor Complex 2 (PRC2) target genes that are not expressed in normal or malignant T-cells and which display a reciprocal association with H3K27me3 binding. In addition, we revealed that this aberrant methylation profile reflects the epigenetic history of T-ALL and is established already in pre-leukemic, self-renewing thymocytes that precede T-ALL development. Finally, we unexpectedly uncover that this age-related CpG island hypermethylation signature in T-ALL is completely resistant to the FDA-approved hypomethylating agent Decitabine. Altogether, we here provide conceptual evidence for the involvement of a pre-leukemic phase characterized by self-renewing thymocytes in the pathogenesis of human T-ALL.
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