The Notch signaling pathway has been implicated in multiple functions during normal hemato-lymphoid development. It also plays critical roles in T-cell leukemogenesis through influencing T-cell proliferation, differentiation and survival. In contrast, we have previously reported a tumor suppressor role in B-cell leukemias, where Notch signaling leads to growth inhibition and apoptosis. The Notch target genes Hairy/Enhancer of Split (HES1-7) encode transcriptional repressors with basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) domains. Functional and phenotypic analyses of some of the HES family members have been reported, however, expression and epigenetic regulation of the HES family in leukemia is largely unknown. Using Methylated CpG Island Amplification (MCA) / DNA promoter microarray, we identified several HES family genes as hypermethylated in B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B ALL). We further investigated the comprehensive methylation profiles of HES family genes in a panel of leukemia cell lines and ALL patient samples by bisulfite pyrosequencing. Aberrant DNA methylation of HES2, HES4, HES5 and HES6 was detected in most B ALL cell lines including B-JAB, RS4:11, REH, Raji and Ramos but not in normal B cell controls. In contrast, in T cell leukemia cell lines such as Molt4, PEER, T-ALL1 and J-TAG, these genes were generally unmethylated. In B ALL patient samples, the frequencies of DNA methylation in the promoter regions of these genes were 25% for HES2, 50% for HES4, 76% for HES5 and 71% for HES6. Expression analysis of HES4, HES5 and HES6 in leukemia cell lines by real-time PCR further confirmed methylation associated gene silencing. Treatment of methylated/silenced cell lines with DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5’-aza-2’-deoxycytidine resulted in HES gene re-expression. Finally, forced re-expression of HES5 and HES6 in methylation silenced Rs4 and REH cell lines inhibited cell growth. These results suggest that the Notch/HES signaling pathway is epigenetically-inactivated in B ALL. These data support the role of the HES family as tumor suppressors in pre-B ALL and establish epigenetic modulation as a novel mechanism of Notch pathway regulation. We anticipate that therapies capable of activating Notch/HES signaling may have therapeutic potential in B cell leukemias.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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