Baer C, Claus R, Frenzel LP, Zucknick M, Park YJ, Gu L, Weichenhan D, Fischer M, Pallasch CP, Herpel E, Rehli M, Byrd JC, Wendtner CM, Plass C
Dysregulated microRNA (miRNA) expression contributes to the pathogenesis of hematopoietic malignancies, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). However, an understanding of the mechanisms that cause aberrant miRNA transcriptional control is lacking. In this study, we comprehensively investigated the role and extent of miRNA epigenetic regulation in CLL. Genome-wide profiling performed on 24 CLL and 10 healthy B cell samples revealed global DNA methylation patterns upstream of miRNA sequences that distinguished malignant from healthy cells and identified putative miRNA promoters. Integration of DNA methylation and miRNA promoter data led to the identification of 128 recurrent miRNA targets for aberrant promoter DNA methylation. DNA hypomethylation accounted for over 60% of all aberrant promoter-associated DNA methylation in CLL, and promoter DNA hypomethylation was restricted to well-defined regions. Individual hyper- and hypomethylated promoters allowed discrimination of CLL samples from healthy controls. Promoter DNA methylation patterns were confirmed in an independent patient cohort, with eleven miRNAs consistently demonstrating an inverse correlation between DNA methylation status and expression level. Together, our findings characterize the role of epigenetic changes in the regulation of miRNA transcription and create a repository of disease-specific promoter regions that may provide additional insights into the pathogenesis of CLL.