Insight into origins, mechanisms, and utility of DNA methylation in B-cell malignancies

Christopher C. Oakes and Jose I. Martin-Subero


Understanding how tumor cells fundamentally alter their identity is critical to identify specific vulnerabilities for use in precision medicine. In B-cell malignancy, knowledge of genetic changes has resulted in great gains in our understanding of the biology of tumor cells, impacting diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Despite this knowledge, much remains to be explained as genetic events do not completely explain clinical behavior and outcomes. Many patients lack recurrent driver mutations, and said drivers can persist in nonmalignant cells of healthy individuals remaining cancer-free for decades. Epigenetics has emerged as a valuable avenue to further explain tumor phenotypes. The epigenetic landscape is the software that powers and stabilizes cellular identity by abridging a broad genome into the essential information required per cell. A genome-level view of B-cell malignancies reveals complex but recurrent epigenetic patterns that define tumor types and subtypes, permitting high-resolution classification and novel insight into tumor-specific mechanisms. Epigenetic alterations are guided by distinct cellular processes, such as polycomb-based silencing, transcription, signaling pathways, and transcription factor activity, and involve B-cell-specific aspects, such as activation-induced cytidine deaminase activity and germinal center–specific events. Armed with a detailed knowledge of the epigenetic events that occur across the spectrum of B-cell differentiation, B-cell tumor–specific aberrations can be detected with improved accuracy and serve as a model for identification of tumor-specific events in cancer. Insight gained through recent efforts may prove valuable in guiding the use of both epigenetic- and nonepigenetic-based therapies.

  • Submitted February 26, 2018.
  • Accepted July 15, 2018.
View Full Text