To discover epigenetic changes that may underly neuroblastoma pathogenesis, we identified differentially methylated genes in neuroblastoma cells compared to neural crest cells, the presumptive precursors cells for neuroblastoma, by using genome-wide DNA methylation analysis. We previously described genes that were hypermethylated in neuroblastoma; in this paper we report on 67 hypomethylated genes, which were filtered to select genes that showed transcriptional over-expression and an association with poor prognosis in neuroblastoma, highlighting GATA3 for detailed studies. Specific methylation assays confirmed the hypomethylation of GATA3 in neuroblastoma, which correlated with high expression at both the RNA and protein level. Demethylation with azacytidine
in cultured sympathetic ganglia cells led to increased GATA3 expression, suggesting a mechanistic
link between GATA3 expression and DNA methylation. Neuroblastomas that had completely absent GATA3 methylation and/or very high levels of protein expression, were associated with poor prognosis. Knock-down of GATA3 in neuroblastoma cells lines inhibited cell proliferation and increased apoptosis but had no effect on cellular differentiation. These results identify GATA3 as an epigenetically regulated component of the neuroblastoma transcriptional control network, that is essential for neuroblastoma proliferation. This suggests that the GATA3 transcriptional network is a promising target for novel neuroblastoma therapies.
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