- Background HOX genes are a family of developmental genes that are neither expressed in the developing forebrain nor in normal brain. Aberrant expression of a HOX-gene dominated stem-cell signature in glioblastoma has been linked with increased resistance to chemo-radiotherapy and sustained proliferation of glioma initiating cells. Here we describe the epigenetic and genetic alterations and their interactions associated with the expression of this signature in glioblastoma.ResultsWe observe prominent hypermethylation of the HOXA locus 7p15.2 in glioblastoma in contrast to non-tumoral brain. Hypermethylation is associated with a gain of chromosome 7, a hallmark of glioblastoma, and may compensate for tumor-driven enhanced gene dosage as a rescue mechanism by preventing undue gene expression. We identify the CpG island of the HOXA10 alternative promoter that appears to escape hypermethylation in the HOX-high glioblastoma. An additive effect of gene copy gain at 7p15.2 and DNA methylation at key regulatory CpGs in HOXA10 is significantly associated with HOX-signature expression. Additionally, we show concordance between methylation status and presence of active or inactive chromatin marks in glioblastoma-derived spheres that are HOX-high or HOX-low, respectively.Conclusions Based on these findings, we propose co-evolution and interaction between gene copy gain, associated with a gain of chromosome 7, and additional epigenetic alterations as key mechanisms triggering a coordinated, but inappropriate, HOX transcriptional program in glioblastoma.