Background: The chromatin insulator CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) displays tissue-specific DNA binding sites that regulate transcription and chromatin organization. Despite evidence linking CTCF to the protection of epigenetic states through barrier insulation, the impact of CTCF loss on genome-wide DNA methylation sites in human cancer remains undefined.
Results: Here, we demonstrate that prostate and breast cancers within The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) exhibit frequent copy number loss of CTCF and that this loss is associated with increased DNA methylation events that occur preferentially at CTCF binding sites. CTCF sites differ among tumor types and result in tissue-specific methylation patterns with little overlap between breast and prostate cancers. DNA methylation and transcriptome profiling in vitro establish that forced downregulation of CTCF leads to spatially distinct DNA hypermethylation surrounding CTCF binding sites, loss of CTCF binding, and decreased gene expression that is also seen in human tumors. DNA methylation inhibition reverses loss of expression at these CTCF-regulated genes.
Conclusion: These findings establish CTCF loss as a major mediator in directing localized DNA hypermethylation events in a tissue-specific fashion and further support its role as a driver of the cancer phenotype.
Keywords: CTCF; Cancer; DNA methylation.