Reciprocal epigenetic remodeling controls testicular cancer hypersensitivity to hypomethylating agents and chemotherapy.

Testicular germ cell tumors (TGCTs) are aggressive but sensitive to cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Alternative therapies are needed for tumors refractory to cisplatin with hypomethylating agents providing one possibility. The mechanisms of cisplatin hypersensitivity and resistance in TGCTs remain poorly understood. Recently, it has been shown that TGCTs, even those resistant to cisplatin, are hypersensitive to very low doses of hypomethylating agents including 5-aza deoxy-cytosine (5-aza) and guadecitabine. We undertook a pharmacogenomic approach in order to better understand mechanisms of TGCT hypomethylating agent hypersensitivity by generating a panel of acquired 5-aza resistant TGCT cells and contrasting these to previously generated acquired isogenic cisplatin resistant cells from the same parent. Interestingly, there was a reciprocal relationship between cisplatin and 5-aza sensitivity, with cisplatin resistance associated with increased sensitivity to 5-aza and 5-aza resistance associated with increased sensitivity to cisplatin. Unbiased transcriptome analysis revealed 5-aza resistant cells strongly downregulated polycomb target gene expression, the exact opposite of the finding for cisplatin resistant cells which upregulated polycomb target genes. This was associated with a dramatic increase in H3K27me3 and decrease in DNMT3B levels in 5-aza resistant cells, the exact opposite changes seen in cisplatin resistant cells. Evidence is presented that reciprocal regulation of polycomb and DNMT3B may be initiated by changes in DNMT3B levels as DNMT3B knockdown alone in parental cells resulted in increased expression of H3K27me3, EZH2 and BMI1, conferred 5-aza resistance and cisplatin sensitization, and mediated genome-wide repression of polycomb target gene expression. Finally, genome-wide analysis revealed that 5-aza resistant, cisplatin resistant and DNMT3B knockdown cells alter the expression of a common set of polycomb target genes. This study highlights that reciprocal epigenetic changes mediated by DNMT3B and polycomb may be a key driver of the unique cisplatin and 5-aza hypersensitivity of TGCTs and suggests that distinct epigenetic vulnerabilities may exist for pharmacological targeting of TGCTs.

Molecular oncology. 2021 Sep 04 [Epub ahead of print]

Ratnakar Singh, Zeeshan Fazal, Emmanuel Bikorimana, Raya I Boyd, Cliff Yerby, Megan Tomlin, Hannah Baldwin, Doha Shokry, Andrea K Corbet, Khadeeja Shahid, Aleyah Hattab, Sarah J Freemantle, Michael J Spinella

Department of Comparative Biosciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA, 61801.