Chromatin H3K27me3/H3K4me3 histone marks define gene sets in high-grade serous ovarian cancer that distinguish malignant, tumour-sustaining and chemo-resistant ovarian tumour cells

Oncogene. 2013 Sep 19;32(38):4586-92. doi: 10.1038/onc.2012.477. Epub 2012 Nov 5.


In embryonic stem (ES) cells, bivalent chromatin domains containing H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 marks silence developmental genes, while keeping them poised for activation following differentiation. We have identified gene sets associated with H3K27me3 and H3K4me3 marks at transcription start sites in a high-grade ovarian serous tumour and examined their association with epigenetic silencing and malignant progression. This revealed novel silenced bivalent marked genes, not described previously for ES cells, which are significantly enriched for the PI3K (P<10(-7)) and TGF-β signalling pathways (P<10(-5)). We matched histone marked gene sets to gene expression sets of eight normal fallopian tubes and 499 high-grade serous malignant ovarian samples. This revealed a significant decrease in gene expression for the H3K27me3 and bivalent gene sets in malignant tissue. We then correlated H3K27me3 and bivalent gene sets to gene expression data of ovarian tumour 'stem cell-like' sustaining cells versus non-sustaining cells. This showed a significantly lower expression for the H3K27me3 and bivalent gene sets in the tumour-sustaining cells. Similarly, comparison of matched chemo-sensitive and chemo-resistant ovarian cell lines showed a significantly lower expression of H3K27me3/bivalent marked genes in the chemo-resistant compared with the chemo-sensitive cell line. Our analysis supports the hypothesis that bivalent marks are associated with epigenetic silencing in ovarian cancer. However it also suggests that additional tumour specific bivalent marks, to those known in ES cells, are present in tumours and may potentially influence the subsequent development of drug resistance and tumour progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Silencing*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Chromatin
  • Histones

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE41500