ARTICLE ABSTRACTHypermethylation of CpG islands (CGI) is a common feature of cancer cells and predominantly affects Polycomb-associated genomic regions. Elucidating the underlying mechanisms leading to DNA hypermethylation in human cancer could help identify chemoprevention strategies. Here, we evaluated the role of Polycomb complexes and 5-methylcytosine (5mC) oxidases in protecting CGIs from DNA methylation and observed that four genes coding for components of Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) are downregulated in tumors. Inactivation of RYBP, a key activator of variant PRC1 complexes, in combination with all three 5mC oxidases (TET proteins) in nontumorigenic bronchial epithelial cells led to widespread hypermethylation of Polycomb-marked CGIs affecting almost 4,000 target genes, which closely resembled the DNA hypermethylation landscape observed in human squamous cell lung tumors. The RYBP- and TET-deficient cells showed methylation-associated aberrant regulation of cancer-relevant pathways, including defects in the Hippo tumor suppressor network. Notably, the quadruple knockout cells acquired a transformed phenotype, including anchorage-independent growth and formation of squamous cell carcinomas in mice. This work provides a mechanism promoting hypermethylation of CGIs and shows that such hypermethylation can lead to cell transformation. The breakdown of a two-pronged protection mechanism can be a route towards genome-wide hypermethylation of CGIs in tumors.
Dysfunction of the Polycomb component RYBP in combination with loss of 5-methylcytosine oxidases promotes widespread hypermethylation of CpG islands in bronchial cells and induces tumorigenesis, resembling changes seen in human lung tumors.