Chronic inflammation represents a major risk factor for tumor formation, but the underlying mechanisms have remained largely unknown. Epigenetic mechanisms can record the effects of environmental challenges on the genome level and could therefore play an important role in the pathogenesis of inflammation-associated tumors. Using single-base methylation maps and transcriptome analyses of a colitis-induced mouse colon cancer model, we identified a novel epigenetic program that is characterized by hypermethylation of DNA methylation valleys that are characterized by low CpG density and active chromatin marks. This program is conserved and functional in mouse intestinal adenomas and results in silencing of active intestinal genes that are involved in gastrointestinal homeostasis and injury response. Further analyses reveal that the program represents a prominent feature of human colorectal cancer and can be used to correctly classify colorectal cancer samples with high accuracy. Together, our results show that inflammatory signals establish a novel epigenetic program that silences a specific set of genes that contribute to inflammation-induced cellular transformation.
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© 2015 American Association for Cancer Research.