Key Points

  • The Me-iPLEX assay is an accurate and robust method for efficiently measuring multiplexed panels of DNA methylation sites.

  • Me-iPLEX–determined epitypes stratify risk, regardless of CLL disease progression or treatment with chemoimmunotherapy or ibrutinib.

Abstract

Alterations in global DNA methylation patterns are a major hallmark of cancer and represent attractive biomarkers for personalized risk stratification. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) risk stratification studies typically focus on time to first treatment (TTFT), time to progression (TTP) after treatment, and overall survival (OS). Whereas TTFT risk stratification remains similar over time, TTP and OS have changed dramatically with the introduction of targeted therapies, such as the Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor ibrutinib. We have shown that genome-wide DNA methylation patterns in CLL are strongly associated with phenotypic differentiation and patient outcomes. Here, we developed a novel assay, termed methylation-iPLEX (Me-iPLEX), for high-throughput quantification of targeted panels of single cytosine guanine dinucleotides from multiple independent loci. Me-iPLEX was used to classify CLL samples into 1 of 3 known epigenetic subtypes (epitypes). We examined the impact of epitype in 1286 CLL patients from 4 independent cohorts representing a comprehensive view of CLL disease course and therapies. We found that epitype significantly predicted TTFT and OS among newly diagnosed CLL patients. Additionally, epitype predicted TTP and OS with 2 common CLL therapies: chemoimmunotherapy and ibrutinib. Epitype retained significance after stratifying by biologically related biomarkers, immunoglobulin heavy chain mutational status, and ZAP70 expression, as well as other common prognostic markers. Furthermore, among several biological traits enriched between epitypes, we found highly biased immunogenetic features, including IGLV3-21 usage in the poorly characterized intermediate-programmed CLL epitype. In summary, Me-iPLEX is an elegant method to assess epigenetic signatures, including robust classification of CLL epitypes that independently stratify patient risk at diagnosis and time of treatment.

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