Background In melanoma, like in other cancers, both genetic alterations and epigenetic underlie the metastatic process. These effects are usually measured by changes in both methylome and transcriptome profiles, whose cross-correlation remains uncertain. We aimed to assess at systems scale the significance of epigenetic treatment in melanoma cells with different metastatic potential. Methods and findings Treatment by DAC demethylation with 5-Aza-2’-deoxycytidine of two melanoma cell lines endowed with different metastatic potential, SKMEL-2 and HS294T, was performed and high-throughput coupled RNA-Seq and RRBS-Seq experiments delivered differential profiles (DiP) of both transcriptomes and methylomes. Methylation levels measured at both TSS and gene body were studied to inspect correlated patterns with wide-spectrum transcript abundance levels quantified in both protein coding and non-coding RNA (ncRNA) regions. The DiP were then mapped onto standard bio-annotation sources (pathways, biological processes) and network configurations were obtained. The prioritized associations for target identification purposes were expected to elucidate the reprogramming dynamics induced by the epigenetic therapy. The interactomic connectivity maps of each cell line were formed to support the analysis of epigenetically re-activated genes. i.e. those supposedly silenced by melanoma. In particular, modular protein interaction networks (PIN) were used, evidencing a limited number of shared annotations, with an example being MAPK13 (cascade of cellular responses evoked by extracellular stimuli). This gene is also a target associated to the PANDAR ncRNA, therapeutically relevant because of its aberrant expression observed in various cancers. Overall, the non-metastatic SKMEL-2 map reveals post-treatment re-activation of a richer pathway landscape, involving cadherins and integrins as signatures of cell adhesion and proliferation. Relatively more lncRNAs were also annotated, indicating more complex regulation patterns in view of target identification. Finally, the antigen maps matched to DiP display other differential signatures with respect to the metastatic potential of the cell lines. In particular, as demethylated melanomas show connected targets that grow with the increased metastatic potential, also the potential target actionability seems to depend to some degree on the metastatic state. However, caution is required when assessing the direct influence of re-activated genes over the identified targets. In light of the stronger treatment effects observed in non-metastatic conditions, some limitations likely refer to in silico data integration tools and resources available for the analysis of tumor antigens. Conclusion Demethylation treatment strongly affects early melanoma progression by re-activating many genes. This evidence suggests that the efficacy of this type of therapeutic intervention is potentially high at the pre-metastatic stages. The biomarkers that can be assessed through antigens seem informative depending on the metastatic conditions, and networks help to elucidate the assessment of possible targets actionability.
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