Methylation-directed regulatory networks determine enhancing and silencing of mutation disease driver genes and explain inter-patient expression variation

Yifat Edrei, Revital Levy, Daniel Kaye, Anat Marom, Bernhard Radlwimmer, Asaf Hellman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Common diseases manifest differentially between patients, but the genetic origin of this variation remains unclear. To explore possible involvement of gene transcriptional-variation, we produce a DNA methylation-oriented, driver-gene-wide dataset of regulatory elements in human glioblastomas and study their effect on inter-patient gene expression variation. Results: In 175 of 177 analyzed gene regulatory domains, transcriptional enhancers and silencers are intermixed. Under experimental conditions, DNA methylation induces enhancers to alter their enhancing effects or convert into silencers, while silencers are affected inversely. High-resolution mapping of the association between DNA methylation and gene expression in intact genomes reveals methylation-related regulatory units (average size = 915.1 base-pairs). Upon increased methylation of these units, their target-genes either increased or decreased in expression. Gene-enhancing and silencing units constitute cis-regulatory networks of genes. Mathematical modeling of the networks highlights indicative methylation sites, which signified the effect of key regulatory units, and add up to make the overall transcriptional effect of the network. Methylation variation in these sites effectively describe inter-patient expression variation and, compared with DNA sequence-alterations, appears as a major contributor of gene-expression variation among glioblastoma patients. Conclusions: We describe complex cis-regulatory networks, which determine gene expression by summing the effects of positive and negative transcriptional inputs. In these networks, DNA methylation induces both enhancing and silencing effects, depending on the context. The revealed mechanism sheds light on the regulatory role of DNA methylation, explains inter-individual gene-expression variation, and opens the way for monitoring the driving forces behind deferential courses of cancer and other diseases.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number264
JournalGenome Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 28 Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Cancer driver genes
  • Cis-regulatory elements
  • DNA methylations
  • Enhancers
  • Expression variation
  • Gene regulation
  • Gene regulatory-domains
  • Glioblastoma
  • Silencers


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