Genome wide DNA methylation profiles provide clues to the origin and pathogenesis of germ cell tumors

Martin A. Rijlaarsdam, David M.J. Tax, Ad J.M. Gillis, Lambert C.J. Dorssers, Devin C. Koestler, Jeroen De Ridder, Leendert H J Looijenga

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16 Citations (Scopus)


The cell of origin of the five subtypes (I-V) of germ cell tumors (GCTs) are assumed to be germ cells from different maturation stages. This is (potentially) reflected in their methylation status as fetal maturing primordial germ cells are globally demethylated during migration from the yolk sac to the gonad. Imprinted regions are erased in the gonad and later become uniparentally imprinted according to fetal sex. Here, 91 GCTs (type I-IV) and four cell lines were profiled (Illumina's HumanMethylation450BeadChip). Data was pre-processed controlling for cross hybridization, SNPs, detection rate, probe-type bias and batch effects. The annotation was extended, covering snRNAs/microRNAs, repeat elements and imprinted regions. A Hidden Markov Model-based genome segmentation was devised to identify differentially methylated genomic regions. Methylation profiles allowed for separation of clusters of non-seminomas (type II), seminomas/dysgerminomas (type II), spermatocytic seminomas (type III) and teratomas/dermoid cysts (type I/IV). The seminomas, dysgerminomas and spermatocytic seminomas were globally hypomethylated, in line with previous reports and their demethylated precursor. Differential methylation and imprinting status between subtypes reflected their presumed cell of origin. Ovarian type I teratomas and dermoid cysts showed (partial) sex specific uniparental maternal imprinting. The spermatocytic seminomas showed uniparental paternal imprinting while testicular teratomas exhibited partial imprinting erasure. Somatic imprinting in type II GCTs might indicate a cell of origin after global demethylation but before imprinting erasure. This is earlier than previously described, but agrees with the totipotent/embryonic stem cell like potential of type II GCTs and their rare extra-gonadal localization. The results support the common origin of the type I teratomas and show strong similarity between ovarian type I teratomas and dermoid cysts. In conclusion, we identified specific and global methylation differences between GCT subtypes, providing insight into their developmental timing and underlying developmental biology. Data and extended annotation are deposited at GEO (GSE58538 and GPL18809).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0122146
JournalPLoS ONE [E]
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


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