Gene Expression and DNA Methylation in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Abstract: Pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common malignancy in children, which results from the malignant transformation of progenitor cells in the bone marrow into leukemic cells. The precise mechanisms for this transformation are not well defined, however recent studies suggest that aberrant regulation of gene expression or DNA methylation may play an important role. Hence, the aim of this thesis was to use novel methods to investigate genome-wide gene expression and DNA methylation patterns in a large collection of primary ALL cells from pediatric patients. With these studies, we aimed to increase the understanding of factors that regulate gene expression and DNA methylation in ALL.In the first study of the thesis we found that data obtained from genome-wide digital gene expression analysis enabled excellent cytogenetic subtype-specific classification of ALL cells and revealed new features of gene expression within the disease, such as prevalent antisense transcription and alternative polyadenylation. In the second study we used technology developed for large-scale single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping for quantitative analysis of allele-specific gene expression (ASE), revealing widespread ASE in ALL cells. Analysis of DNA methylation in promoter regions of the genes displaying ASE using DNA-microarrays revealed frequent regulation of gene expression by DNA methylation. In the third study, using the same DNA methylation array, we identified differences in the DNA methylation patterns in ALL cells at diagnosis compared to healthy mononuclear cells from the bone marrow of the same children at remission. In the fourth study we measured the DNA methylation of >450,000 CpG sites across the genome in a large collection of ALL samples and non-leukemic control cells. We found that ALL cells displayed highly divergent DNA methylation patterns depending on their cytogenetic subtype and widespread regions of differential methylation were enriched for repressive histone marks. DNA methylation levels at distinct regions in the genome were substantially increased at relapse compared to matched cells from diagnosis.Collectively, the results presented in this thesis provide new insights into the patterns of gene expression and epigenetic changes in ALL and further increase our understanding of the development and progression of the disease, which will hopefully lead to better treatment options in the future.