ANO1 is a calcium-activated chloride channel that is frequently overexpressed in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and other cancers. While ANO1 expression negatively correlates with survival in several cancers, its epigenetic regulation is poorly understood. We analyzed HNSCC samples from TCGA and a separate dataset of HPV+ oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) samples to identify differentially methylated regions. E6 and E7 transfected normal oral keratinocytes (NOK) were used to induce hypermethylation of the ANO1 promoter. We found three CpG islands that correlated with ANO1 expression, including two positively correlated with expression. Using two HNSCC datasets with differential expression of ANO1, we showed hypermethylation of positively correlated CpG islands potentiates ANO1 expression. E7 but not E6 transfection of NOK cells led to hypermethylation of a positively correlated CpG island without a change in ANO1 expression. ANO1 promoter methylation was also correlated with patient survival. Our results are the first to show the contribution of positively correlated CpG's for regulating gene expression in HNSCC. Hypermethylation of the ANO1 promoter was strongly correlated with but not sufficient to increase ANO1 expression, suggesting methylation of positively correlated CpG's likely serves as an adjunct to other mechanisms of ANO1 activation.
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