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Super-resolution imaging reveals the evolution of higher-order chromatin folding in early carcinogenesis

By Jianquan Xu, Hongqiang Ma, Hongbin Ma, Wei Jiang, Meihan Duan, Shimei Zhao, Chenxi Gao, Eun-Ryeong Hahm, Santana M. Lardo, Kris Troy, Ming Sun, Reet Pai, Donna B. Stolz, Shivendra Singh, Randall E Brand, Douglas J. Hartman, Jing Hu, Sarah J. Hainer, Yang Liu

Posted 17 Jun 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/672105 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15718-7)

Aberrant chromatin structure is a hallmark in cancer cells and has long been used for clinical diagnosis of cancer. However, underlying higher-order chromatin folding during malignant transformation remains elusive, due to the lack of molecular scale resolution. Using optimized stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) for pathological tissue (PathSTORM), we uncovered a gradual decompaction and fragmented higher-order chromatin folding throughout all stages of carcinogenesis in multiple tumor types, even prior to the tumor formation. Our integrated imaging, genomic, and transcriptomic analyses reveal the functional consequences in enhanced formation of transcription factories, spatial juxtaposition with relaxed nanosized chromatin domains and impaired genomic stability. We also demonstrate the potential of imaging higher-order chromatin decompaction to detect high-risk precursors that cannot be distinguished by conventional pathology. Taken together, our findings reveal the gradual decompaction and fragmentation of higher-order chromatin structure as an enabling characteristic in early carcinogenesis to facilitate malignant transformation, which may improve cancer diagnosis, risk stratification, and prevention.

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