The Journal of investigative dermatology

KIT is a frequent target for epigenetic silencing in cutaneous melanoma.

PMID 25178104


The receptor tyrosine kinase KIT and its ligand, stem cell factor (SCF), are essential for the proliferation and survival of normal melanocytes. In melanomas arising on mucosal, acral, and chronically sun-damaged skin, activating KIT mutations have been identified as oncogenic drivers and potent therapeutic targets. Through an initial whole-genome screen for aberrant promoter methylation in melanoma, we identified the KIT promoter as a target for hypermethylation in 43/110 melanoma cell lines, and in 3/12 primary and 11/29 metastatic cutaneous melanomas. Methylation density at the KIT promoter correlated inversely with promoter activity in vitro and in vivo, and the expression of KIT was restored after treatment with the demethylating agent 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine. Hypermethylation of KIT showed no direct or inverse correlations with well-documented melanoma drivers. Growth of melanoma cells in the presence of SCF led to reduced KIT expression and increased methylation density at the KIT promoter, suggesting that SCF may exert a selection pressure for the loss of KIT. The frequent loss of KIT in cutaneous melanoma by promoter hypermethylation suggests that distinct KIT signaling pathways have opposing roles in the pathogenesis of melanoma subtypes.