Hexokinase 2 (HK2) is a rate-determining enzyme in aerobic glycolysis, a process upregulated in tumor cells. HK2 expression is controlled by various transcription factors and epigenetic alterations and is heterogeneous in hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs), though the cause of this heterogeneity is not known. DNA methylation in the HK2 promoter CpG island (HK2-CGI) and its surrounding regions (shore and shelf) has not previously been evaluated, but may provide clues about the regulation of HK2 expression. Here, we compared HK2 promoter methylation in HCCs and adjacent non-cancerous liver tissues using a HumanMethylation450 BeadChip array. We found that, while the HK2-CGI N-shore was hypomethylated, thereby enhancing HK2 expression, the HK2-CGI was itself hypermethylated in some HCCs. This hypermethylation suppressed HK2 expression by inhibiting interactions between HIF-1α and a hypoxia response element (HRE) located at -234/-230. HCCs that were HK2negative and had distinct promoter CGI methylation were denoted as having a HK2-CGI methylation phenotype (HK2-CIMP), which was associated with poor clinical outcome. These findings indicate that HK2-CGI N-shore hypomethylation and HK2-CGI hypermethylation affect HK2 expression by influencing the interaction between HIF 1α and HRE. HK2-CGI hypermethylation induces HK2-CIMP and could represent a prognostic biomarker for HCC.
Keywords: HIF-1α; HK2-CIMP; hexokinase 2; hypoxia response element; HumanMethylation450 BeadChip.