STK11 (liver kinase B1, LKB1) is the fourth most frequently mutated gene in lung adenocarcinoma, with loss of function observed in up to 30% of all cases. Our previous work identified a 16-gene signature for LKB1 loss of function through mutational and nonmutational mechanisms. In this study, we applied this genetic signature to The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) lung adenocarcinoma samples and discovered a novel association between LKB1 loss and widespread DNA demethylation. LKB1-deficient tumors showed depletion of S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e), which is the primary substrate for DNMT1 activity. Lower methylation following LKB1 loss involved repetitive elements (RE) and altered RE transcription, as well as decreased sensitivity to azacytidine. Demethylated CpGs were enriched for FOXA family consensus binding sites, and nuclear expression, localization, and turnover of FOXA was dependent upon LKB1. Overall, these findings demonstrate that a large number of lung adenocarcinomas exhibit global hypomethylation driven by LKB1 loss, which has implications for both epigenetic therapy and immunotherapy in these cancers.

Significance:

Lung adenocarcinomas with LKB1 loss demonstrate global genomic hypomethylation associated with depletion of SAM-e, reduced expression of DNMT1, and increased transcription of repetitive elements.

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