Identification of novel epigenetic abnormalities as sputum biomarkers for lung cancer risk among smokers and COPD patients

Lung Cancer

Tessema M, et al. Lung Cancer 2020.


OBJECTIVES: Smoking is a common risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Although COPD patients have higher risk of lung cancer compared to non-COPD smokers, the molecular links between these diseases are not well-defined. This study aims to identify genes that are downregulated by cigarette smoke and commonly repressed in COPD and lung cancer.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Primary human airway epithelial cells (HAEC) were exposed to cigarette-smoke-extract (CSE) for 10-weeks and significantly suppressed genes were identified by transcriptome array. Epigenetic abnormalities of these genes in lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD) from patients with or without COPD were determined using genome-wide and gene-specific assays and by in vitro treatment of cell lines with trichostatin-A or 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine.

RESULTS: The ten most commonly downregulated genes following chronic CSE exposure of HAEC and show promoter hypermethylation in LUAD were selected. Among these, expression of CCNA1, SNCA, and ZNF549 was significantly reduced in lung tissues from COPD compared with non-COPD cases while expression of CCNA1 and SNCA was further downregulated in tumors with COPD. The promoter regions of all three genes were hypermethylated in LUAD but not normal or COPD lungs. The reduced expression and aberrant promoter hypermethylation of these genes in LUAD were independently validated using data from the Cancer Genome Atlas project. Importantly, SNCA and ZNF549 methylation detected in sputum DNA from LUAD (52% and 38%) cases were more prevalent compared to cancer-free smokers (26% and 15%), respectively (p < 0.02).

CONCLUSIONS: Our data show that suppression of CCNA1, SNCA, and ZNF549 in lung cancer and COPD occurs with or without promoter hypermethylation, respectively. Detecting methylation of these and previously identified genes in sputum of cancer-free smokers may serve as non-invasive biomarkers for early detection of lung cancer among high risk smokers including COPD patients.