Aberrant DNA methylation of promoter-associated CpG islands is a frequent phenomenon in human leukemias, and in particular in adult ALL. Hck is a member of the Src family of tyrosine kinases, and functionally is located downstream of BCR-ABL signaling in chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Hck expression is limitedly to myeloid cells and B cell lymphocytes. Although some evidence indicates that Hck is required for malignant transformation and apoptosis, its role in leukemia is not fully understood. Here we analyze the role of aberrant DNA methylation of Hck in leukemia cell lines and patients. Using BLAT, we first identified the presence of a canonical CpG island in the near proximity of the transcription start site of HcK. To detect and measure DNA methylation, we designed a combined bisulfite restriction PCR assay. Using this assay, we found that Hck was methylated in 13 out of 23 hematopoietic and 8 out of 10 non-hematopoietic cell lines, but not in the bone marrow from 6 healthy individuals. We subsequently studied Hck expression by real-time PCR using GAPDH expression as an internal control. Hck expression was lower (dCT = −14.2± 3.6) in 7 Hck methylated cell lines than in 8 Hck unmethylated ones (dCT= −9.0± 3.5), p=0.017. All the cell lines studied were of myeloid or B cell origin. We then treated the Raji cell line with the hypomethylating agent 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine (DAC). DAC treatment resulted in partial hypomethylation of Hck and in an increment of Hck expression (dCT: −19.37 to −8.47). Subsequently, the effects of DAC treatment on Hck protein expression levels were analyzed using Western blot. These experiments showed a strong correlation between hypomethylation, gene re-expression and protein expression levels. These data therefore indicates that DNA methylation is an important aberrant regulator of Hck expression in leukemia cell lines. Based on the relevance of these findings, we then analyzed the frequency of Hck methylation in patients with leukemia. Using a cut-off of 10%, Hck was found to be methylated in 15 out of 44 (34%) patients with ALL, 9 out 23 pts (39%) with CML, and 3 out 10 pts (30%) with AML. Of importance, the density of Hck methylation was significantly higher in patients with ALL (mean 11.3%; range 0–76) compared to those with CML(5.2%; range 0–12) or AML ( 7.5%, range 0–14), p=0.02. Hck methylation was not associated with a B cell phenotype or the presence of the Philadelphia chromosome in patients with ALL. Nine ALL pts out of 15 with Hck methylation had died compared to 7 out 29 unmethylated (total ALL group n=34). Median survival had not been reached for the group of patients with no Hck methylation (n=29) compared to 116 weeks for those with Hck methylation (n=15) (p=0.08). All pts had been treated with hyperCVAD based chemotherapy. These data indicates that Hck methylation is a frequent phenomenon in human leukemia that maybe associated with a worse prognosis in ALL and suggests that Hck has a tumor suppressor like function in these disorders.

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