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Transposable Element Expression In Tumors Is Associated With Immune Infiltration And Increased Antigenicity

By Yu Kong, Chris Rose, Ashley A Cass, Martine Darwish, Steve Lianoglou, Pete M Haverty, Ann-Jay Tong, Craig Blanchette, Ira Mellman, Richard Bourgon, John M Greally, Suchit Jhunjhunwala, Matthew L. Albert, Haiyin Chen-Harris

Posted 09 Aug 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/388215

Profound loss of DNA methylation is a well-recognized hallmark of cancer. Given its role in silencing transposable elements (TEs), we hypothesized that extensive TE expression occurs in tumors with highly demethylated DNA. We developed REdiscoverTE, a computational method for quantifying genome-wide TE expression in RNA sequencing data. Using The Cancer Genome Atlas database, we observed increased expression of over 400 TE subfamilies, of which 262 appeared to result from a proximal loss of DNA methylation. The most recurrent TEs were among the evolutionarily youngest in the genome, predominantly expressed from intergenic loci, and associated with antiviral or DNA damage responses. Treatment of glioblastoma cells with a demethylation agent resulted in both increased TE expression and de novo presentation of TE-derived peptides on MHC class I molecules. Therapeutic reactivation of tumor-specific TEs may synergize with immunotherapy by inducing both inflammation and the display of potentially immunogenic neoantigens.

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