The early pregnancy placenta foreshadows DNA methylation alterations of solid tumors

<p>The placenta relies on phenotypes that are characteristic of cancer to successfully implant the embryo in the uterus during early pregnancy. Notably, it has to invade its host tissues, promote angiogenesis—while surviving hypoxia—, and escape the immune system. Similarities in DNA methylation patterns between the placenta and cancers suggest that common epigenetic mechanisms may be involved in regulating these behaviors. We show here that megabase-scale patterns of hypomethylation distinguish first from third trimester chorionic villi in the placenta, and that these patterns mirror those that distinguish many tumors from corresponding normal tissues. We confirmed these findings in villous cytotrophoblasts isolated from the placenta and identified a time window at the end of the first trimester, when these cells come into contact with maternal blood, as the likely time period for the methylome alterations. Furthermore, the large genomic regions affected by these patterns of hypomethylation encompass genes involved in pathways related to epithelial-mesenchymal transition, immune response, and inflammation. Analyses of expression profiles corresponding to genes in these hypomethylated regions in colon adenocarcinoma tumors point to networks of differentially expressed genes previously implicated in carcinogenesis and placentogenesis, where nuclear factor kappa B is a key hub. Taken together, our results suggest the existence of epigenetic switches involving large-scale changes of methylation in the placenta during pregnancy and in tumors during neoplastic transformation. The characterization of such epigenetic switches might lead to the identification of biomarkers and drug targets in oncology as well as in obstetrics and gynecology.</p>