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INTRODUCTION—Hypermethylation of the promoter region of the hMLH1 gene is associated with absent expression of MLH1 protein in sporadic colorectal cancers with microsatellite instability (MSI+), and it has been proposed that methylation may be a mechanism of inactivation in Knudson's hypothesis. The incidence of hypermethylation of the hMLH1 promoter in hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) versus MSI+ sporadic colorectal cancer was investigated and compared.
METHODS—DNA was available from 10 HNPCC colorectal cancers (median age 58 years, range 39-67) with germline mutations in hMLH1 and 10 MSI+ sporadic colorectal cancers (mean age 79 years, range 41-85). MSI was determined by amplification of BAT26 and TGF-β RII. The methylation status of the hMLH1 promoter was studied by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based HpaII restriction enzyme assay technique. Evidence of allelic loss at hMLH1 was searched for in the HNPCC colorectal cancers.
RESULTS—All cases were confirmed to be MSI+. The promoter region of hMLH1 was hypermethylated in seven of 10 MSI+ sporadic cancers versus 0 of 10 HNPCC cancers (p<0.002). Evidence of loss of heterozygosity at hMLH1 was observed in eight of the 10 HNPCC colorectal cancers.
CONCLUSION—While mutations and allelic loss are responsible for the MSI+ phenotype in HNPCC cancers, the majority of MSI+ sporadic cancers are hypermethylated in the promoter region of hMLH1. These data further support our argument that tumours from HNPCC patients, which almost always acquire a raised mutation rate, mostly follow a different pathway from MSI+ sporadic tumours.
Keywords: hMLH1 promoter region; HNPCC; hypermethylation; colorectal cancer