Background: Studies of epigenomic alterations associated with diseases primarily focus on methylation profiles of promoter regions of genes, but not of other genomic regions. In our past work (Das et al. 2019) on patients suffering from gingivo-buccal oral cancer – the most prevalent form of cancer among males in India – we have also focused on promoter methylation changes and resultant impact on transcription profiles. Here, we have investigated alterations in non-promoter (gene-body) methylation profiles and have carried out an integrative analysis of gene-body methylation and transcriptomic data of oral cancer patients.
Methods: Tumor and adjacent normal tissue samples were collected from 40 patients. Data on methylation in the non-promoter (gene-body) regions of genes and transcriptome profiles were generated and analyzed. Because of high dimensionality and highly correlated nature of these data, we have used Random Forest (RF) and other data-analytical methods.
Results: Integrative analysis of non-promoter methylation and transcriptome data revealed significant methylation-driven alterations in some genes that also significantly impact on their transcription levels. These changes result in enrichment of the Central Carbon Metabolism (CCM) pathway, primarily by dysregulation (overexpression) of (a) NTRK3, which plays a dual role as an oncogene and a tumor suppressor; (b) SLC7A5 (LAT1) which is a transporter dedicated to essential amino acids, and is overexpressed in cancer cells to meet the increased demand for nutrients that include glucose and essential amino acids; and, (c) EGFR which has been earlier implicated in progression, recurrence, and stemness of oral cancer, but we provide evidence of epigenetic impact on overexpression of this gene for the first time.
Conclusions: In rapidly dividing cancer cells, metabolic reprogramming from normal cells takes place to enable enhanced proliferation. Here, we have identified that among oral cancer patients, genes in the CCM pathway – that plays a fundamental role in metabolic reprogramming – are significantly dysregulated because of perturbation of methylation in non-promoter regions of the genome. This result compliments our previous result that perturbation of promoter methylation results in significant changes in key genes that regulate the feedback process of DNA methylation for the maintenance of normal cell division.