Epigenetics & chromatin

Hypoxia increases genome-wide bivalent epigenetic marking by specific gain of H3K27me3.

PMID 27800026


Trimethylation at histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4me3) and lysine 27 (H3K27me3) controls gene activity during development and differentiation. Whether H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 changes dynamically in response to altered microenvironmental conditions, including low-oxygen conditions commonly present in solid tumors, is relatively unknown. Demethylation of H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 is mediated by oxygen and 2-oxoglutarate dioxygenases enzymes, suggesting that oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) may influence histone trimethylation. Using the MCF7 breast epithelial adenocarcinoma cell model, we have determined the relationship between epigenomic and transcriptomic reprogramming as a function of fluctuating oxygen tension. We find that in MCF7, H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 marks rapidly increase at specific locations throughout the genome and are largely reversed upon reoxygenation. Whereas dynamic changes are relatively highest for H3K27me3 marking under hypoxic conditions, H3K4me3 occupation is identified as the defining epigenetic marker of transcriptional control. In agreement with the global increase of H3K27 trimethylation, we provide direct evidence that the histone H3K27me3 demethylase KDM6B/JMJD3 is inactivated by limited oxygen. In situ immunohistochemical analysis confirms a marked rise of histone trimethylation in hypoxic tumor areas. Acquisition of H3K27me3 at H3K4me3-marked loci results in a striking increase in "bivalent" epigenetic marking. Hypoxia-induced bivalency substantially overlaps with embryonal stem cell-associated genic bivalency and is retained at numerous loci upon reoxygenation. Transcriptional activity is selectively and progressively dampened at bivalently marked loci upon repeated exposure to hypoxia, indicating that this subset of genes uniquely maintains the potential for epigenetic regulation by KDM activity. These data suggest that dynamic regulation of the epigenetic state within the tumor environment may have important consequences for tumor plasticity and biology.