To detect genes with CpG sites that display methylation patterns that are characteristic of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells, we compared the methylation patterns of cells taken at diagnosis from 20 patients with pediatric ALL to the methylation patterns in mononuclear cells from bone marrow of the same patients during remission and in non-leukemic control cells from bone marrow or blood. Using a custom-designed assay, we measured the methylation levels of 1,320 CpG sites in regulatory regions of 413 genes that were analyzed because they display allele-specific gene expression (ASE) in ALL cells. The rationale for our selection of CpG sites was that ASE could be the result of allele-specific methylation in the promoter regions of the genes. We found that the ALL cells had methylation profiles that allowed distinction between ALL cells and control cells. Using stringent criteria for calling differential methylation, we identified 28 CpG sites in 24 genes with recurrent differences in their methylation levels between ALL cells and control cells. Twenty of the differentially methylated genes were hypermethylated in the ALL cells, and as many as nine of them (AMICA1, CPNE7, CR1, DBC1, EYA4, LGALS8, RYR3, UQCRFS1, WDR35) have functions in cell signaling and/or apoptosis. The methylation levels of a subset of the genes were consistent with an inverse relationship with the mRNA expression levels in a large number of ALL cells from published data sets, supporting a potential biological effect of the methylation signatures and their application for diagnostic purposes.
This article was published online in PLoS ONE and is free to access.