BACKGROUND: Mycosis fungoides (MF) is the most common type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma; in its classical presentation it evolves slowly, but it can have an aggressive course in a subset of patients. OBJECTIVES: To investigate the impact of epigenetic mechanisms on the progression of early stage MF. METHODS: We analysed DNA methylation at 12 different loci and long interspersed nucleotide elements-1 (LINE-1), as a surrogate marker of global methylation, on tissue samples from 41 patients with stage I MF followed up for at least 12 years or until disease progression. The methylation profiles were also analysed in two T-cell lymphoma cell lines and correlated with gene expression. RESULTS: The selected loci were methylated in a tumour-specific manner; concomitant hypermethylation of at least four loci was more frequent in cases progressing within 1-3 and 3-6 years than in late-progressive or non-progressive cases. LINE-1 methylation was significantly lower in rapidly progressive MF at 3 years (61%, P < 0·001) than in those at 12 years (67%). PPARG, SOCS1 and NEUROG1 methylation showed remarkable differences among the prognostic groups, but only PPARG was a significant predictor of disease progression within 6 years, after adjustment for patients' age or gender. Strikingly, a methylation profile similar to progressive cases was found in highly proliferative Sézary-derived HUT78 cells but not in MF-derived HUT102 cells. Exposure to a DNA demethylating agent restored sensitivity to apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. CONCLUSIONS: Epigenetic silencing of specific biomarkers can predict the risk of disease progression in early-stage MF, providing insights into its pathogenesis, prognosis and therapy.
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