Epigenetic regulation of gene expression by DNA methylation plays a central role in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis. Here we present evidence implicating the DNA methylation program in the regulation of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) oxygen-sensing machinery and hypoxic cell metabolism. We show that DNA methyltransferase 3a (DNMT3a) methylates and silences the HIF-2α gene (EPAS1) in differentiated cells. Epigenetic silencing of EPAS1 prevents activation of the HIF-2α gene program associated with hypoxic cell growth, thereby limiting the proliferative capacity of adult cells under low oxygen tension. Naturally occurring defects in DNMT3a, observed in primary tumors and malignant cells, cause the unscheduled activation of EPAS1 in early dysplastic foci. This enables incipient cancer cells to exploit the HIF-2α pathway in the hypoxic tumor microenvironment necessary for the formation of cellular masses larger than the oxygen diffusion limit. Reintroduction of DNMT3a in DNMT3a-defective cells restores EPAS1 epigenetic silencing, prevents hypoxic cell growth, and suppresses tumorigenesis. These data support a tumor-suppressive role for DNMT3a as an epigenetic regulator of the HIF-2α oxygen-sensing pathway and the cellular response to hypoxia.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||6|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - May 27 2014|
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