DNA methylation is a crucial epigenetic mechanism for gene expression regulation and cell differentiation. Furthermore, it was found to play a major role in multiple pathological processes, including cancer. In pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (PNENs), epigenetic deregulation is also considered to be of significance, as the most frequently mutated genes have an important function in epigenetic regulation. However, the exact changes in DNA methylation between PNENs and the endocrine cells of the pancreas, their likely cell-of-origin, remain largely unknown. Recently, two subtypes of PNENs have been described which were linked to cell-of-origin and have a different prognosis. A difference in the expression of the transcription factor PDX1 was one of the key molecular differences. In this study, we performed an exploratory genome-wide DNA methylation analysis using Infinium Methylation EPIC arrays (Illumina) on 26 PNENs and pancreatic islets of five healthy donors. In addition, the methylation profile of the PDX1 region was used to perform subtyping in a global cohort of 83 PNEN, 2 healthy alpha cell and 3 healthy beta cell samples. In our exploratory analysis, we identified 26,759 differentially methylated CpGs and 79 differentially methylated regions. The gene set enrichment analysis highlighted several interesting pathways targeted by altered DNA methylation, including MAPK, platelet-related and immune system-related pathways. Using the PDX1 methylation in 83 PNEN, 2 healthy alpha cell and 3 healthy beta cell samples, two subtypes were identified, subtypes A and B, which were similar to alpha and beta cells, respectively. These subtypes had different clinicopathological characteristics, a different pattern of chromosomal alterations and a different prognosis, with subtype A having a significantly worse prognosis compared with subtype B (HR 0.22 [95% CI: 0.051-0.95], p = 0.043). Hence, this study demonstrates that several cancer-related pathways are differently methylated between PNENs and normal islet cells. In addition, we validated the use of the PDX1 methylation status for the subtyping of PNENs and its prognostic importance.
Keywords: DNA methylation; PDX1; cell-of-origin; pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms; prognosis; subtypes.