Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard Medical School
Uncovering non-coding DNA alterations that drive cancer by integrative analysis
Cancer is driven by activation of pro-cancer genes (oncogenes) and loss of anti-cancer genes (tumor suppressors). In the last decades vast efforts revealed how genetic alterations of the DNA sequence of genes drive cancer. However, almost all of our DNA does not code for genes, referred to as "non-coding DNA". My research focuses on how genetic and epigenetic alterations of the non-coding DNA alter its regulatory function, reshape chromosomal structure and allow oncogene activation to drive cancer. We describe new mechanisms of oncogene activation and explain the genetic and epigenetic causes of a variety of cancers.
Abstract: The emergence of whole-genome annotation approaches is paving the way for the comprehensive annotation of the human genome across diverse cell and tissue types exposed to various environmental conditions. This has already unmasked the positions of thousands of functional cis-regulatory elements integral to transcriptional regulation, such as enhancers, promoters, and anchors of chromatin interactions that populate the noncoding genome. Recent studies have shown that cis-regulatory elements are commonly the targets of genetic and epigenetic alterations associated with aberrant gene expression in cancer. Here, we review these findings to showcase the contribution of the noncoding genome and its alteration in the development and progression of cancer. We also highlight the opportunities to translate the biological characterization of genetic and epigenetic alterations in the noncoding cancer genome into novel approaches to treat or monitor disease.The majority of genetic and epigenetic alterations accumulate in the noncoding genome throughout oncogenesis. Discriminating driver from passenger events is a challenge that holds great promise to improve our understanding of the etiology of different cancer types. Advancing our understanding of the noncoding cancer genome may thus identify new therapeutic opportunities and accelerate our capacity to find improved biomarkers to monitor various stages of cancer development. Cancer Discov; 6(11); 1215-29. ©2016 AACR.
Pub.: 04 Nov '16, Pinned: 18 Dec '17
Abstract: Gain-of-function IDH mutations are initiating events that define major clinical and prognostic classes of gliomas1, 2. Mutant IDH protein produces a new onco-metabolite, 2-hydroxyglutarate, which interferes with iron-dependent hydroxylases, including the TET family of 5′-methylcytosine hydroxylases3, 4, 5, 6, 7. TET enzymes catalyse a key step in the removal of DNA methylation8, 9. IDH mutant gliomas thus manifest a CpG island methylator phenotype (G-CIMP)10, 11, although the functional importance of this altered epigenetic state remains unclear. Here we show that human IDH mutant gliomas exhibit hypermethylation at cohesin and CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF)-binding sites, compromising binding of this methylation-sensitive insulator protein. Reduced CTCF binding is associated with loss of insulation between topological domains and aberrant gene activation. We specifically demonstrate that loss of CTCF at a domain boundary permits a constitutive enhancer to interact aberrantly with the receptor tyrosine kinase gene PDGFRA, a prominent glioma oncogene. Treatment of IDH mutant gliomaspheres with a demethylating agent partially restores insulator function and downregulates PDGFRA. Conversely, CRISPR-mediated disruption of the CTCF motif in IDH wild-type gliomaspheres upregulates PDGFRA and increases proliferation. Our study suggests that IDH mutations promote gliomagenesis by disrupting chromosomal topology and allowing aberrant regulatory interactions that induce oncogene expression.
Pub.: 23 Dec '15, Pinned: 18 Dec '17
Abstract: Translocation events are frequent in cancer and may create chimeric fusions or 'regulatory rearrangements' that drive oncogene overexpression. Here we identify super-enhancer translocations that drive overexpression of the oncogenic transcription factor MYB as a recurrent theme in adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). Whole-genome sequencing data and chromatin maps highlight distinct chromosomal rearrangements that juxtapose super-enhancers to the MYB locus. Chromosome conformation capture confirms that the translocated enhancers interact with the MYB promoter. Remarkably, MYB protein binds to the translocated enhancers, creating a positive feedback loop that sustains its expression. MYB also binds enhancers that drive different regulatory programs in alternate cell lineages in ACC, cooperating with TP63 in myoepithelial cells and a Notch program in luminal epithelial cells. Bromodomain inhibitors slow tumor growth in ACC primagraft models in vivo. Thus, our study identifies super-enhancer translocations that drive MYB expression and provides insight into downstream MYB functions in alternate ACC lineages.
Pub.: 02 Feb '16, Pinned: 18 Dec '17
Abstract: B-cell lymphomas frequently contain genomic rearrangements that lead to oncogene activation by heterologous distal regulatory elements. We used a novel approach called "pinpointing enhancer-associated rearrangements by chromatin immunoprecipitation," or PEAR-ChIP, to simultaneously map enhancer activity and proximal rearrangements in lymphoma cell lines and patient biopsies. This method detects rearrangements involving known cancer genes, including CCND1, BCL2, MYC, PDCD1LG2, NOTCH1, CIITA, and SGK1, as well as novel enhancer duplication events of likely oncogenic significance. We identify lymphoma subtype-specific enhancers in the MYC locus that are silenced in lymphomas with MYC-activating rearrangements and are associated with germline polymorphisms that alter lymphoma risk. We show that BCL6-locus enhancers are acetylated by the BCL6-activating transcription factor MEF2B, and can undergo genomic duplication, or target the MYC promoter for activation in the context of a "pseudo-double-hit" t(3;8)(q27;q24) rearrangement linking the BCL6 and MYC loci. Our work provides novel insights regarding enhancer-driven oncogene activation in lymphoma.We demonstrate a novel approach for simultaneous detection of genomic rearrangements and enhancer activity in tumor biopsies. We identify novel mechanisms of enhancer-driven regulation of the oncogenes MYC and BCL6, and show that the BCL6 locus can serve as an enhancer donor in an "enhancer hijacking" translocation.
Pub.: 01 Aug '15, Pinned: 18 Dec '17
Abstract: Oncogenes are activated through well-known chromosomal alterations such as gene fusion, translocation, and focal amplification. In light of recent evidence that the control of key genes depends on chromosome structures called insulated neighborhoods, we investigated whether proto-oncogenes occur within these structures and whether oncogene activation can occur via disruption of insulated neighborhood boundaries in cancer cells. We mapped insulated neighborhoods in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) and found that tumor cell genomes contain recurrent microdeletions that eliminate the boundary sites of insulated neighborhoods containing prominent T-ALL proto-oncogenes. Perturbation of such boundaries in nonmalignant cells was sufficient to activate proto-oncogenes. Mutations affecting chromosome neighborhood boundaries were found in many types of cancer. Thus, oncogene activation can occur via genetic alterations that disrupt insulated neighborhoods in malignant cells.
Pub.: 05 Mar '16, Pinned: 18 Dec '17