Distinct chromatin signatures of DNA hypomethylation in aging and cancer
Cancer is an aging-associated disease, but the underlying molecular links between these processes are still largely unknown. Gene promoters that become hypermethylated in aging and cancer share a common chromatin signature in ES cells. In addition, there is also global DNA hypomethylation in both processes. However, the similarity of the regions where this loss of DNA methylation occurs is currently not well characterized, and it is unknown if such regions also share a common chromatin signature in aging and cancer. To address this issue, we analyzed TCGA DNA methylation data from a total of 2,311 samples, including control and cancer cases from patients with breast, kidney, thyroid, skin, brain, and lung tumors and healthy blood, and integrated the results with histone, chromatin state, and transcription factor binding site data from the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics and ENCODE projects. We identified 98,857 CpG sites differentially methylated in aging and 286,746 in cancer. Hyper- and hypomethylated changes in both processes each had a similar genomic distribution across tissues and displayed tissue-independent alterations. The identified hypermethylated regions in aging and cancer shared a similar bivalent chromatin signature. In contrast, hypomethylated DNA sequences occurred in very different chromatin contexts. DNA hypomethylated sequences were enriched at genomic regions marked with the activating histone posttranslational modification H3K4me1 in aging, while in cancer, loss of DNA methylation was primarily associated with the repressive H3K9me3 mark. Our results suggest that the role of DNA methylation as a molecular link between aging and cancer is more complex than previously thought.