5-Hydroxymethylcytosine Profiling of Cell-Free DNA Identifies Bivalent Genes That Are Prognostic of Survival in High-Risk Neuroblastoma

JCO Precis Oncol. 2024 Jan:8:e2300297. doi: 10.1200/PO.23.00297.


Purpose: Neuroblastoma is the most common extracranial solid tumor in childhood. We previously showed that circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) and tumor biopsy derived 5-hydroxymethylcytosime (5-hmC) profiles identified patients with neuroblastoma who experienced subsequent relapse. Here, we hypothesized that 5-hmC modifications selectively enriched in cfDNA compared with tumor biopsy samples would identify epigenetic changes associated with aggressive tumor behavior and identify novel biomarkers of outcome in patients with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Methods: 5-hmC profiles from cfDNA (n = 64) and tumor biopsies (n = 48) were compared. Two neuroblastoma cell lines underwent chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing (ChIP-Seq) for H3K27me3, H3K4me3, and H3K27ac; kethoxal-associated single-stranded DNA sequencing; hmC-Seal for 5-hmC; and RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq). Genes enriched for both H3K27me3 and H3K4me3 in the included cell lines were defined as bivalent. Using bivalent genes defined in vitro, a bivalent signature was established in three publicly available cohorts of patients with neuroblastoma through gene set variation analysis. Differences between tumors with high or low bivalent signatures were assessed by the Kaplan-Meier method and Cox proportional hazards models.

Results: In cfDNA compared with tumor biopsy derived 5-hmC profiles, we found increased 5-hmC deposition on Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 target genes, a finding previously described in the context of bivalent genes. We identified 313 genes that bore bivalent chromatin marks, were enriched for mediators of neuronal differentiation, and were transcriptionally repressed across a panel of heterogeneous neuroblastoma cell lines. In three distinct clinical cohorts, low bivalent signature was significantly and independently associated with worse clinical outcome in patients with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Conclusion: Low expression of bivalent genes is a biomarker of worse outcome in patients with high-risk neuroblastoma.

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids*
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neuroblastoma* / genetics
  • Prognosis


  • Histones
  • 5-hydroxymethylcytosine
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids
  • 5-Methylcytosine