Lai AY, Fatemi M, Dhasarathy A, Malone C, Sobol SE, Geigerman C, Jaye DL, Mav D, Shah R, Li L, Wade PA
Aberrant DNA methylation commonly occurs in cancer cells where it has been implicated in the epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes. Additional roles for DNA methylation, such as transcriptional activation, have been predicted but have yet to be clearly demonstrated. The BCL6 oncogene is implicated in the pathogenesis of germinal center-derived B cell lymphomas. We demonstrate that the intragenic CpG islands within the first intron of the human BCL6 locus were hypermethylated in lymphoma cells that expressed high amounts of BCL6 messenger RNA (mRNA). Inhibition of DNA methyltransferases decreased BCL6 mRNA abundance, suggesting a role for these methylated CpGs in positively regulating BCL6 transcription. The enhancer-blocking transcription factor CTCF bound to this intronic region in a methylation-sensitive manner. Depletion of CTCF by short hairpin RNA in neoplastic plasma cells that do not express BCL6 resulted in up-regulation of BCL6 transcription. These data indicate that BCL6 expression is maintained during lymphomagenesis in part through DNA methylation that prevents CTCF-mediated silencing.