Colorectal cancer (CRC) is classified into distinct subtypes based on genetic, epigenetic and/or transcriptional subtypes. The underlying mechanisms that drive these subtypes are unknown. By integrating whole genome DNA methylation, gene expression, chromatin patterns, and enhancer elements in CRCs, we show that expression of large numbers of transcriptional factors (TFs) is deregulated in CRCs and these expression patterns drive epigenetic and transcriptional subtypes of CRCs. The first key result emerging is a new understanding of important DNA methylation patterns central to classifying CRCs. Of these, different degrees of cancer associated promoter methylation have been recognized that suppress expression, and/or inducibility of important tumor suppressor genes. Stratified by high to low degrees of hypermethylation, this pattern is termed CpG-island promoter DNA methylation phenotypes or CIMP. We now tightly link CIMP to a cancer-specific hypermethylation at enhancer regulatory elements we term, CpG- enhancer methylation phenotype (CEMP). CIMP and CEMP are driven by decreased expression of multiple TFs with binding sites in these regulatory elements, and the involved TFs are frequently identical between the two regions. In contrast, a different set of TF factors are downregulated in non-CIMP tumors, again in conjunction with methylation patterns linking promoter and enhancer target sites for the involved TFs. Further, enhancer regulatory elements that are hypomethylated in cancer relative to normal tissue are associated with increased expression of another distinct set of TFs with target sites in the corresponding enhancers. Importantly, the TF expression patterns, and the above CIMP, CEMP, and hypomethylation patterns, are established early in the pre-malignant adenomas. Importantly, pan-cancer analyses showed that the above CIMP and CEMP subtypes occur across important cancer types in addition to CRC, again in parallel with marked downregulation of TFs that have target sites in the methylated regulatory elements. All of the above newly defined patterns also provide a basis for the transcriptome-based consensus molecular subtypes (CMS) of CRC. Overall, our studies may provide key understanding of how cancers, and their initiation and progression, are diseases which at the end of the day depend on abnormal patterns of TF expression, and how these relate to methylation alterations at target enhancer and promoter regions.
Citation Format: Yuba Bhandari, Rachael Powers, Sehej Parmar, Vinod Krishna, Kurtis E. Bachman, Steve Baylin, Hariharan Easwaran. Transcription factor repertoire basis for epigenetic and consensus molecular subtypes of colorectal cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2021; 2021 Apr 10-15 and May 17-21. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(13_Suppl):Abstract nr 2107.