Crosstalk between DNA methylation and hypoxia in acute myeloid leukaemia

Clin Epigenetics. 2023 Sep 13;15(1):150. doi: 10.1186/s13148-023-01566-x.


Background: Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a deadly disease characterised by the uncontrolled proliferation of immature myeloid cells within the bone marrow. Altered regulation of DNA methylation is an important epigenetic driver of AML, where the hypoxic bone marrow microenvironment can help facilitate leukaemogenesis. Thus, interactions between epigenetic regulation and hypoxia signalling will have important implications for AML development and treatment.

Main body: This review summarises the importance of DNA methylation and the hypoxic bone marrow microenvironment in the development, progression, and treatment of AML. Here, we focus on the role hypoxia plays on signalling and the subsequent regulation of DNA methylation. Hypoxia is likely to influence DNA methylation through altered metabolic pathways, transcriptional control of epigenetic regulators, and direct effects on the enzymatic activity of epigenetic modifiers. DNA methylation may also prevent activation of hypoxia-responsive genes, demonstrating bidirectional crosstalk between epigenetic regulation and the hypoxic microenvironment. Finally, we consider the clinical implications of these interactions, suggesting that reduced cell cycling within the hypoxic bone marrow may decrease the efficacy of hypomethylating agents.

Conclusion: Hypoxia is likely to influence AML progression through complex interactions with DNA methylation, where the therapeutic efficacy of hypomethylating agents may be limited within the hypoxic bone marrow. To achieve optimal outcomes for AML patients, future studies should therefore consider co-treatments that can promote cycling of AML cells within the bone marrow or encourage their dissociation from the bone marrow.

Keywords: Acute myeloid leukaemia; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Hypoxia; Reactive oxygen species; Treatment outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / genetics
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute* / genetics
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment