Fetal hemoglobin induction in azacytidine responders enlightens methylation patterns related to blast clearance in higher-risk MDS and CMML

Theodora Chatzilygeroudi, Vasiliki Chondrou, Ruben Boers, Stavroula Siamoglou, Katerina Athanasopoulou, Evgenia Verigou, Joost Gribnau, Spyridon Alexis, Vassiliki Labropoulou, Alexandra Kourakli, George P. Patrinos, Argyro Sgourou, Argiris Symeonidis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Background:
As new treatment options for patients with higher-risk myelodysplastic syndromes are emerging, identification of prognostic markers for hypomethylating agent (HMA) treatment and understanding mechanisms of their delayed and short-term responses are essential. Early fetal hemoglobin (HbF) induction has been suggested as a prognostic indicator for decitabine-treated patients. Although epigenetic mechanisms are assumed, responding patients’ epigenomes have not been thoroughly examined. We aimed to clarify HbF kinetics and prognostic value for azacytidine treated patients, as well as the epigenetic landscape that might influence HbF re-expression and its clinical relevance.

Results:
Serial HbF measurements by high-performance liquid chromatography (n = 20) showed induction of HbF only among responders (p = 0.030). Moreover, HbF increase immediately after the first azacytidine cycle demonstrated prognostic value for progression-free survival (PFS) (p = 0.032, HR = 0.19, CI 0.24–1.63). Changes in methylation patterns were revealed with methylated DNA genome-wide sequencing analysis (n = 7) for FOG-1, RCOR-1, ZBTB7A and genes of the NuRD-complex components. Targeted pyrosequencing methodology (n = 28) revealed a strong inverse correlation between the degree of γ-globin gene (HBG2) promoter methylation and baseline HbF levels (p = 0.003, rs = − 0.663). A potential epigenetic mechanism of HbF re-expression in azacytidine responders was enlightened by targeted methylation analysis, through hypomethylation of site -53 of HBG2 promoter (p = 0.039, rs = − 0.504), which corresponds to MBD2-NuRD binding site, and to hypermethylation of the CpG326 island of ZBTB7A (p = 0.05, rs = 0.482), a known HbF repressor. These changes were associated to blast cell clearance (pHBG2 = 0.011, rs = 0.480/pZBTB7A = 0.026, rs = 0.427) and showed prognostic value for PFS (pZBTB7A = 0.037, HR = 1.14, CI 0.34–3.8).

Conclusions:
Early HbF induction is featured as an accessible prognostic indicator for HMA treatment and the proposed potential epigenetic mechanism of HbF re-expression in azacytidine responders includes hypomethylation of the γ-globin gene promoter region and hypermethylation of the CpG326 island of ZBTB7A. The association of these methylation patterns with blast clearance and their prognostic value for PFS paves the way to discuss in-depth azacytidine epigenetic mechanism of action. Graphical abstract: (Figure presented.)

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
Number of pages17
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Volume16
Issue number1
Early online date15 Jun 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2024

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© The Author(s) 2024.

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