Epigenetic and genetic deregulation in cancer target distinct signaling pathway domains
Cancer is characterized by both genetic and epigenetic alterations. While cancer driver mutations and copy-number alterations have been studied at a systems-level, relatively little is known about the systems-level patterns exhibited by their epigenetic counterparts. Here we perform a pan-cancer wide systems-level analysis, mapping candidate cancer-driver DNA methylation (DNAm) alterations onto a human interactome. We demonstrate that functional DNAm alterations in cancer tend to map to nodes of lower connectivity and inter-connectivity, compared to the corresponding alterations at the genomic level. We find that epigenetic alterations are relatively over-represented in extracellular and transmembrane signaling domains, whereas cancer genes undergoing amplification or deletion tend to be enriched within the intracellular domain. A pan-cancer wide meta-analysis identifies WNT and chemokine signaling, as two key pathways where epigenetic deregulation preferentially targets extracellular components. We further pinpoint specific chemokine ligands/receptors whose epigenetic deregulation associates with key epigenetic enzymes, representing potential targets for epigenetic therapy. Our results suggest that epigenetic deregulation in cancer not only targets tissue-specific transcription factors, but also modulates signaling within the extra-cellular domain, providing novel system-level insight into the potential distinctive role of genetic and epigenetic alterations in cancer.
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