Hypoxia-induced changes in intragenic DNA methylation correlate with alternative splicing in breast cancer

Abstract

The tumor microenvironment is marked by gradients in the level of oxygen and nutrients, with oxygen levels reaching a minimum at the core of the tumor, a condition known as tumor hypoxia. Mediated by members of the HIF family of transcription factors, hypoxia leads to a more aggressive tumor phenotype by transactivation of several genes as well as reprogramming of pre-mRNA splicing. Intragenic DNA methylation, which is known to affect alternative splicing in cancer, could be one of several reasons behind the changes in splicing patterns under hypoxia. Here, we have tried to establish a correlation between intragenic DNA methylation and alternative usage of exons in tumor hypoxia. First, we have generated a custom hypoxia signature consisting of 34 genes that are up-regulated under hypoxia and are direct targets of HIF-1α. Using this gene expression signature, we have successfully stratified publicly available breast cancer patient samples into hypoxia positive and hypoxia negative groups followed by mining of differentially spliced isoforms between these groups. The Hypoxia Hallmark signature from MSigDB was also used independently to stratify the same tumor samples into hypoxic and normoxic. We found that 821 genes were showing differential splicing between samples stratified using a custom signature, whereas, 911 genes were showing differential splicing between samples stratified using the MSigDB signature. Finally, we performed multiple correlation tests between the methylation levels (β) of microarray probes located within 1 kilo base pairs of isoform-specific exons using those exons’ expression levels in the same patient samples in which the methylation level was recorded. We found that the expression level of one of the exons of DHX32 and BICD2 significantly correlated with the methylation levels, and we were also able to predict patient survival (p-value: 0.02 for DHX32 and 0.0024 for BICD2). Our findings provide new insights into the potential functional role of intragenic DNA methylation in modulating alternative splicing during hypoxia.

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Acknowledgements

This work is supported by Wellcome Trust/Department of Biotechnology (DBT) India Alliance Fellowship Grant IA/I/16/2/502719 to SS. DP was supported by a University Grants Commission Junior Research Fellowship. S.P.N. was supported by SERB–National Postdoctoral Fellowship PDF/2015/000560.

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Correspondence to Nagarjun Vijay or Sanjeev Shukla.

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This artice is part of the Topical Collection: Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics.

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Pant, D., Narayanan, S.P., Vijay, N. et al. Hypoxia-induced changes in intragenic DNA methylation correlate with alternative splicing in breast cancer. J Biosci 45, 3 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12038-019-9977-0

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Keywords

  • Hypoxia
  • alternative splicing
  • DNA methylation
  • breast cancer
  • epigenetics