Chronic idiopathic myelofibrosis (MF) is a clonal hematopoietic disorder that leads to progressive marrow fibrosis and peripheral cytopenias. Very little is known about the role of aberrant DNA methylation in the pathobiology of this disease. Whole genome methylation was analyzed by a recently described novel method, the HELP assay (HpaII tiny fragment Enrichment by Ligation-mediated PCR; Khulan et al, Genome Res. 2006 Aug;16(8)) that uses differential methylation specific restriction digestion by HpaII and MspI followed by amplification, two color labeling and cohybridization to quantitatively determine individual promoter methylation. A whole genome human promoter array (Nimblegen) was used to determine the level of methylation of 25626 gene promoters by calculating HpaII/MspI cut fragment intensity ratio. Peripheral blood leucocytes from 9 patients with IMF were compared to 9 age-matched normal and anemic controls. Gene expression analysis was performed using 37K oligo maskless arrays using cDNA from the same samples. Methylation analysis showed that myelofibrosis samples clustered separately from normal and anemic controls when grouped by unsupervised clustering based on Pearson’s correlation coefficient. On the other hand, global gene expression demonstrated no clear cut differences between myelofibrosis and control samples suggesting that methylation profiling has greater discriminatory power when compared to conventional gene expression profiling. A high correlation (r=0.88–0.96) was observed between whole genome methylation profiles of matched sets of bone marrow and peripheral blood leucocyte samples from selected patients demonstrating that peripheral blood leucocytes can act as a valid surrogates for epigenomic analysis. Further analysis showed that genes aberrantly methylated in all myelofibrosis samples included v-myc, histone 2A, TNF, TNF Receptor1, FGF14 and others. Functional pathway analysis by Ingenuity showed that pathways involved in Inflammation and Cell signaling were the most affected by epigenetic silencing. Most interestingly, a large proportion of gene promoters were also aberrantly hypomethylated. These included genes for chemokine CXCL13, APC, IL-3, STAT2 and others. The pathways most activated by hypomethylation were involved in hematopoiesis and cell growth and proliferation demonstrating the biological validity of our analysis. Thus, our data demonstrates that myelofibrosis is characterized by distinct epigenetic aberrations that are preserved in peripheral blood leucocytes. These can be the basis of future studies on pathogenesis and diagnosis for this disease and lead to translational studies with agents targeting DNA methylation.

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