Aberrant transcriptional regulation plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of acute leukemias. Chromosomal translocations and other mutations frequently affect transcription and chromatin regulation-associated genes in these diseases. Based on these findings we hypothesized that distinct global chromatin modification patterns exist that can distinguish between progenitor cells (CD34+ HSC) and acute leukemia as well as its subtypes. We used high density oligonucleotide ChIP-Chip assays querying more than 31,000 genomic loci to analyze global Histone H3 acetylation (H3Ac) and Lysine 9 (H3K9me3) trimethylation patterns each in a large number of AML (n=115), ALL (n=30), CD34+ HSC (n= 21) and peripheral blood cell (N=18) specimens. Class comparisons and predictions as well as unsupervised analyses were performed. Bioinformatic analyses led to histone modification maps across the genome with Histone H3 acetylation levels peaking around the predicted transcriptional start sites. More than 1000 loci differed in H3 acetylation and H3K9me3 between AML and CD34+ specimens (5% FDR). Among the regulatory classes over-represented among the altered genes were those involved in oncogenesis and cellular proliferation/differentiation. Histone H3 acetylation and H3K9me3 patterns also differed at hundreds of loci between ALL and AML samples (5% FDR). Genes involved in transcriptional regulation were significantly altered between the two leukemia subtypes. Specific differences in global chromatin modifications allowed support vector machine-based classification of CD34+ progenitor cells, AML, and ALL, with about 90% sensitivity and specificity based on Histone H3 acetylation patterns. A similar classification power was observed for H3K9me3. Within the AML patients, several groups of patients were identified that clustered together in unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis due to similar histone modification patterns. These patterns did not primarily depend on patients′ karyotypes,, indicating that it may be possible to define some, as yet unknown, different types of AML based on chromatin modification. On a global scale, acute leukemias are associated with specific histone modification patterns that distinguish AML from ALL and CD34+ hematopoietic progenitors. Taken together, these first data on the leukemia epigenome provide the basis for improved understanding of genes involved in leukemia pathogenesis.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.