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1.  Differential promoter methylation of kinesin family member 1a in plasma is associated with breast cancer and DNA repair capacity 
Oncology Reports  2014;32(2):505-512.
Methylation alterations of CpG islands, CpG island shores and first exons are key events in the formation and progression of human cancer, and an increasing number of differentially methylated regions and genes have been identified in breast cancer. Recent studies of the breast cancer methylome using deep sequencing and microarray platforms are providing a novel insight on the different roles aberrant methylation plays in molecular subtypes of breast cancer. Accumulating evidence from a subset of studies suggests that promoter methylation of tumor-suppressor genes associated with breast cancer can be quantified in circulating DNA. However, there is a paucity of studies that examine the combined presence of genetic and epigenetic alterations associated with breast cancer using blood-based assays. Dysregulation of DNA repair capacity (DRC) is a genetic risk factor for breast cancer that has been measured in lymphocytes. We isolated plasma DNA from 340 participants in a breast cancer case control project to study promoter methylation levels of five genes previously shown to be associated with breast cancer in frozen tissue and in cell line DNA: MAL, KIF1A, FKBP4, VGF and OGDHL. Methylation of at least one gene was found in 49% of the cases compared to 20% of the controls. Three of the four genes had receiver characteristic operator curve values of ≥0.50: MAL (0.64), KIF1A (0.51) and OGDHL (0.53). KIF1A promoter methylation was associated with breast cancer and inversely associated with DRC. This is the first evidence of a significant association between genetic and epigenetic alterations in breast cancer using blood-based tests. The potential diagnostic utility of these biomarkers and their relevance for breast cancer risk prediction should be examined in larger cohorts.
PMCID: PMC4091885  PMID: 24927296
epigenetics; epigenetic biomarker panel; breast cancer; KIF1A; OGDHL; FKBP4; VGF; MAL promoter methylation; DNA repair capacity
2.  Cigarette smoke induces methylation of the tumor suppressor gene NISCH 
Epigenetics  2013;8(4):383-388.
We have previously identified a putative tumor suppressor gene, NISCH, whose promoter is methylated in lung tumor tissue as well as in plasma obtained from lung cancer patients. NISCH was observed to be more frequently methylated in smoker lung cancer patients than in non-smoker lung cancer patients. Here, we investigated the effect of tobacco smoke exposure on methylation of the NISCH gene. We tested methylation of NISCH after oral keratinocytes were exposed to mainstream and side stream cigarette smoke extract in culture. Methylation of the promoter region of the NISCH gene was also evaluated in plasma obtained from lifetime non-smokers and light smokers (< 20 pack/year), with and without lung tumors, and heavy smokers (20+ pack/year) without disease. Promoter methylation of NISCH was tested by quantitative fluorogenic real-time PCR in all samples. Promoter methylation of NISCH occurred after exposure to mainstream tobacco smoke as well as to side stream tobacco smoke in normal oral keratinocyte cell lines. NISCH methylation was also detected in 68% of high-risk, heavy smokers without detectable tumors. Interestingly, in light smokers, NISCH methylation was present in 69% of patients with lung cancer and absent in those without disease. Our pilot study indicates that tobacco smoke induces methylation changes in the NISCH gene promoter before any detectable cancer. Methylation of the NISCH gene was also found in lung cancer patients’ plasma samples. After confirming these findings in longitudinally collected plasma samples from high-risk populations (such as heavy smokers), examining patients for hypermethylation of the NISCH gene may aid in identifying those who should undergo additional screening for lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC3674047  PMID: 23503203
lung cancer; Nisch; methylation; smoking; tobacco
3.  Correlation between BRAF mutation and promoter methylation of TIMP3, RARβ2 and RASSF1A in thyroid cancer 
Epigenetics  2012;7(7):710-719.
Our aim was to comprehensively analyze promoter hypermethylation of a panel of novel and known methylation markers for thyroid neoplasms and to establish their relationship with BRAF mutation and clinicopathologic parameters of thyroid cancer. A cohort of thyroid tumors, consisting of 44 cancers and 44 benign thyroid lesions, as well as 15 samples of adjacent normal thyroid tissue, was evaluated for BRAF mutation and promoter hypermethylation. Genes for quantitative methylation specific PCR (QMSP) were selected by a candidate gene approach. Twenty-two genes were tested: TSHR, RASSF1A, RARβ2, DAPK, hMLH1, ATM, S100, p16, CTNNB1, GSTP1, CALCA, TIMP3, TGFßR2, THBS1, MINT1, CTNNB1, MT1G, PAK3, NISCH, DCC, AIM1 and KIF1A. The PCR-based “mutector assay” was used to detect BRAF mutation. All p values reported are two sided. Considerable overlap was seen in the methylation markers among the different tissue groups. Significantly higher methylation frequency and level were observed for KIF1A and RARß2 in cancer samples compared with benign tumors. A negative correlation between BRAF mutation and RASSF1A methylation, and a positive correlation with RARß2 methylation were observed in accordance with previous results. In addition, positive correlation with TIMP3 and a marginal correlation with DCC methylation were observed. The present study constitutes a comprehensive promoter methylation profile of thyroid neoplasia and shows that results must be analyzed in a tissue-specific manner to identify clinically useful methylation markers. Integration of genetic and epigenetic changes in thyroid cancer will help identify relevant biologic pathways that drive its development.
PMCID: PMC3414391  PMID: 22694820
BRAF; RARβ2; RASSF1A; TIMP3; biomarkers; hypermethylation; thyroid cancer; thyroid tissue
4.  An epigenetic marker panel for detection of lung cancer using cell-free serum DNA 
We investigated the feasibility of detecting aberrant DNA methylation of some novel and known genes in the serum of lung cancer patients.
To determine the analytical sensitivity, we examined the tumor and the matched serum DNA for aberrant methylation of fifteen gene promoters from 10 patients with primary lung tumors by using Quantitative methylation specific PCR. We then tested this 15 gene set to identify the more useful DNA methylation changes in the serum of a limited number of lung cancer patients and controls. In an independent set, we tested the six most promising genes (APC, CDH1, MGMT, DCC, RASSF1A and AIM) for further elucidation of the diagnostic application of this panel of markers.
Promoter hypermethylation of at least one of the genes studied was detected in all 10 lung primary tumors. In majority of cases, aberrant methylation in serum DNA was accompanied by methylation in the matched tumor samples. In the independent set, using a single gene that had 100% specificity (DCC), 35.5% (95% CI 25%, 47%) of the 76 lung cancer patients were correctly identified. For patients without methylated DCC, addition of a logistic regression score that was based on the five remaining genes improved sensitivity from 35.5% to 75% (95% CI: 64%, 84%) but decreased the specificity from 100% to 73% (95% CI:54%, 88%).
This approach needs to be evaluated in a larger test set to determine the role of this gene set in early detection and surveillance of lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC3131425  PMID: 21610147
DNA methylation/epigenetics; serum; lung cancer
5.  A Survey of Methylated Candidate Tumor Suppressor Genes in Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma 
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a rare malignancy with unique genetic, viral and environmental characteristic that distinguishes it from other head and neck carcinomas. The clinical management of NPC remains challenging largely due to the lack of early detection strategies for this tumor. In the present study we have sought to identify novel genes involved in the pathogenesis of NPC that might provide insight into this tumor's biology and could potentially be used as biomarkers. To identify these genes, we studied the epigenetics of NPC by characterizing a panel of methylation markers. Eighteen genes were evaluated by quantitative methylation-specific PCR in cell lines as well as in tissue samples including 50 NPC tumors and 28 benign nasopharyngeal biopsies. Significance was evaluated using Fisher's exact test and quantitative values were optimized using cut off values derived from receiver-operator characteristic curves. The methylation status of AIM1, APC, CALCA, DCC, DLEC, DLC1, ESR, FHIT, KIF1A, and PGP9.5 was significantly associated with NPC compared to controls. The sensitivity of the individual genes ranged from 26 to 66% and the specificity was above 92% for all genes except FHIT. The combination of PGP9.5, KIF1A, and DLEC had a sensitivity of 84% and a specificity of 92%. Ectopic expression of DCC and DLC1 lead to decrease in colony formation and invasion properties. Our results indicate that methylation of novel biomarkers in NPC could be used to enhance early detection approaches. Additionally, our functional studies reveal previously unknown tumor suppressor roles in NPC.
PMCID: PMC2955155  PMID: 20473931
6.  Molecular Analysis of Plasma DNA for the Early Detection of Lung Cancer by Quantitative Methylation Specific PCR 
Aberrant promoter hypermethylation of tumor suppressor genes is a promising marker for lung cancer detection. We investigated the likelihood of detecting aberrant DNA methylation of tumor suppressor genes, in plasma samples of patients with abnormalities of the lung detected upon CT-scan.
Experimental design
In a small evaluation cohort, 4 gene promoters (DCC, Kif1a, NISCH, Rarb) were found to be methylated with increased frequency in samples from cancer patients specifically. We then examined DNA from 93 plasma samples from patients with abnormal findings in the lung detected upon CT scan for aberrant methylation of these 4 gene promoters by quantitative fluorogenic real-time PCR (QMSP). The patients were divided into 2 groups, ground glass opacity (GGO n=23) and cancerous tumors (n=70). Plasma DNA from age-matched nodule-free individuals were used as controls (n=80).
In plasma, 73% of patients with cancerous tumors showed methylation of at least one gene with a specificity of 71% (p=0.0001). Only 22% patients with GGO exhibited methylation of at least one gene. When smoking history was taken into account, 72% of cancer patients with no smoking history or those who smoked <20 pack years, showed methylation of at least one gene with 100% specificity (p=0.05) when compared to matched controls. Among heavy smokers with 20+ pack years of smoking history, 30% of the control group and 73% of the patients with cancerous tumors showed methylation (p=0.0001).
These biomarkers can distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous abnormal CT findings.
PMCID: PMC2899894  PMID: 20592015
7.  Genome-Wide Promoter Analysis Uncovers Portions of the Cancer Methylome 
Cancer research  2008;68(8):2661-2670.
DNA methylation has a role in mediating epigenetic silencing of CpG island genes in cancer and other diseases. Identification of all gene promoters methylated in cancer cells “the cancer methylome” would greatly advance our understanding of gene regulatory networks in tumorigenesis. We previously described a new method of identifying methylated tumor suppressor genes based on pharmacologic unmasking of the promoter region and detection of re-expression on microarray analysis. In this study, we modified and greatly improved the selection of candidates based on new promoter structure algorithm and microarray data generated from 20 cancer cell lines of 5 major cancer types. We identified a set of 200 candidate genes that cluster throughout the genome of which 25 were previously reported as harboring cancer-specific promoter methylation. The remaining 175 genes were tested for promoter methylation by bisulfite sequencing or methylation-specific PCR (MSP). Eighty-two of 175 (47%) genes were found to be methylated in cell lines, and 53 of these 82 genes (65%) were methylated in primary tumor tissues. From these 53 genes, cancer-specific methylation was identified in 28 genes (28 of 53; 53%). Furthermore, we tested 8 of the 28 newly identified cancer-specific methylated genes with quantitative MSP in a panel of 300 primary tumors representing 13 types of cancer. We found cancer-specific methylation of at least one gene with high frequency in all cancer types. Identification of a large number of genes with cancer-specific methylation provides new targets for diagnostic and therapeutic intervention, and opens fertile avenues for basic research in tumor biology.
PMCID: PMC3102297  PMID: 18413733
8.  ssDNA-Binding Protein 2 Is Frequently Hypermethylated and Suppresses Cell Growth in Human Prostate Cancer 
Prostate cancer is a major cause of cancer death among men and the development of new biomarkers is important to augment current detection approaches.
Experimental Design
We identified hypermethylation of the ssDNA-binding protein 2 (SSBP2) promoter as a potential DNA marker for human prostate cancer based on previous bioinformatics results and pharmacologic unmasking microarray.We then did quantitative methylation-specific PCR in primary prostate cancer tissues to confirm hypermethylation of the SSBP2 promoter, and analyzed its correlation with clinicopathologic data. We further examined SSBP2 expression in primary prostate cancer and studied its role in cell growth.
Quantitative methylation-specific PCR results showed that the SSBP2 promoter was hypermethylated in 54 of 88 (61.4%) primary prostate cancers versus 0 of 23 (0%) in benign prostatic hyperplasia using a cutoff value of 120. Furthermore, we found that expression of SSBP2 was down-regulated in primary prostate cancers and cancer cell lines. Hypermethylation of the SSBP2 promoter and its expression were closely associated with higher stages of prostate cancer. Reactivation of SSBP2 expression by the demethylating agent 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine in prostate cancer cell lines confirmed epigenetic inactivation as one major mechanism of SSBP2 regulation. Moreover, forced expression of SSBP2 inhibited prostate cancer cell proliferation in the colony formation assay and caused cell cycle arrest.
SSBP2 inhibits prostate cancer cell proliferation and seems to represent a novel prostate cancer – specific DNA marker, especially in high stages of human prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC3082869  PMID: 18559593
9.  Pharmacologic Unmasking of Epigenetically Silenced Genes in Breast Cancer 
Aberrant promoter hypermethylation of several known or putative tumor suppressor genes occurs frequently during the pathogenesis of various cancers including breast cancer. Many epigenetically inactivated genes involved in breast cancer development remain to be identified. Therefore, in this study we used a pharmacologic unmasking approach in breast cancer cell lines with 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine (5-aza-dC) followed by microarray expression analysis to identify epigenetically inactivated genes in breast cancer.
Experimental Design
Breast cancer cell lines were treated with 5-aza-dC followed by microarray analysis to identify epigenetically inactivated genes in breast cancer. We then used bisulfite DNA sequencing, conventional methylation-specific PCR, and quantitative fluorogenic real-time methylation-specific PCR to confirm cancer-specific methylation in novel genes.
Forty-nine genes were up-regulated in breast cancer cells lines after 5-aza-dC treatment, as determined by microarray analysis. Five genes (MAL, FKBP4, VGF, OGDHL, and KIF1A) showed cancer-specific methylation in breast tissues. Methylation of at least two was found at high frequency only in breast cancers (40 of 40) as compared with normal breast tissue (0 of 10; P < 0.0001, Fisher’s exact test).
This study identified new cancer-specific methylated genes to help elucidate the biology of breast cancer and as candidate diagnostic markers for the disease.
PMCID: PMC3082476  PMID: 19228724
10.  KIF1A and EDNRB are differentially methylated in primary HNSCC and salivary rinses 
Silencing of tumor suppressor genes plays a vital role in head and neck carcinogenesis. In this study, we aimed to evaluate to the utility of aberrant promoter hypermethylation for detection in a panel of 10 genes (KIF1A, EDNRB, CDH4, TERT, CD44, NISCH, PAK3, VGF, MAL and FKBP4) in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) via a candidate gene approach. We investigated methylation of the gene promoters by bisulfite modification and quantitative methylation-specific PCR (Q-MSP) in a preliminary study of a limited cohort of salivary rinses from healthy subjects (n = 61) and patients with HNSCC (n = 33). The methylation status of 2 selected genes (EDNRB and KIF1A) were then analyzed in 15 normal mucosa samples from a healthy population, 101 HNSCC tumors and the corresponding salivary rinses from 71 out of the 101 HNSCC patients were collected before treatment. The promoter regions of CDH4, TERT, VGF, MAL, FKBP4, NISCH and PAK3 were methylated in normal salivary rinses while no methylation of CD44 was observed in either normal salivary rinses or tumor samples. However, KIF1A and EDNRB were methylated in 98 and 97% of primary HNSCC tissues respectively and were only methylated in 2 and 6.6% of normal salivary rinses. In addition, KIF1A and EDNRB were methylated in 38 and 67.6% of salivary rinses from HNSCC patients, respectively. Promoter hypermethylation of KIF1A and EDNRB is a frequent event in primary HNSCC, and these genes are preferentially methylated in salivary rinses from HNSCC patients. KIF1A and EDNRB are potential biomarkers for HNSCC detection.
PMCID: PMC2946472  PMID: 20162572
methylation; saliva; head and neck cancer; KIF1A; EDNRB
11.  Promoter DNA Methylation of Oncostatin M receptor-β as a Novel Diagnostic and Therapeutic Marker in Colon Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(8):e6555.
In addition to genetic changes, the occurrence of epigenetic alterations is associated with accumulation of both genetic and epigenetic events that promote the development and progression of human cancer. Previously, we reported a set of candidate genes that comprise part of the emerging “cancer methylome”. In the present study, we first tested 23 candidate genes for promoter methylation in a small number of primary colon tumor tissues and controls. Based on these results, we then examined the methylation frequency of Oncostatin M receptor-β (OSMR) in a larger number of tissue and stool DNA samples collected from colon cancer patients and controls. We found that OSMR was frequently methylated in primary colon cancer tissues (80%, 80/100), but not in normal tissues (4%, 4/100). Methylation of OSMR was also detected in stool DNA from colorectal cancer patients (38%, 26/69) (cut-off in TaqMan-MSP, 4). Detection of other methylated markers in stool DNA improved sensitivity with little effect on specificity. Promoter methylation mediated silencing of OSMR in cell lines, and CRC cells with low OSMR expression were resistant to growth inhibition by Oncostatin M. Our data provide a biologic rationale for silencing of OSMR in colon cancer progression and highlight a new therapeutic target in this disease. Moreover, detection and quantification of OSMR promoter methylation in fecal DNA is a highly specific diagnostic biomarker for CRC.
PMCID: PMC2717211  PMID: 19662090
12.  TIMP3 Promoter Methylation is an Independent Prognostic Factor for Bladder Cancer 
The Journal of urology  2007;179(2):743-747.
Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3 (TIMP-3) is one of four members of a family of proteins that were originally classified according to their ability to inhibit matrix metalloproteinases (MMP). We analyzed TIMP-3 methylation in 175 urine sediment DNA samples from bladder cancer patients with well characterized clinicopathological parameters including patient outcome.
Materials and methods
We examined urine sediment DNA for aberrant methylation of 9 genes including TIMP-3 by quantitative fluorogenic real-time PCR.
Using an optimal cutoff value by Taqman quantitation, we found that the risk of death was statistically significantly higher in patients with higher TIMP-3 and ARF methylation (hazard ratio [HR] =1.99, 95% confidence interval [CI] =1.12 to 3.27; p= 0.01 and HR=1.66, 95% CI=1.00 to 2.76; p=0.05 respectively) than in patients without/lower TIMP3 and ARF methylation in urine. A significant correlation was also seen between risk of death and stage 3 tumor (HR=2.73, 95% CI=1.58 to 4.72; p=0.003 and the presence of metastasis (HR=3.32, 95% CI=1.98 to 5.57; p=0.0001). Multivariate analysis subsequently revealed that TIMP-3 methylation was an independent prognostic factor for bladder cancer survival with stage and metastasis (p=0.001 and 0.02 respectively).
These results suggest that TIMP-3 promoter methylation could be a clinically applicable marker for bladder cancer progression.
PMCID: PMC2674621  PMID: 18082200
13.  Coordinated Activation of Candidate Proto-Oncogenes and Cancer Testes Antigens via Promoter Demethylation in Head and Neck Cancer and Lung Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(3):e4961.
Epigenetic alterations have been implicated in the pathogenesis of solid tumors, however, proto-oncogenes activated by promoter demethylation have been sporadically reported. We used an integrative method to analyze expression in primary head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and pharmacologically demethylated cell lines to identify aberrantly demethylated and expressed candidate proto-oncogenes and cancer testes antigens in HNSCC.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We noted coordinated promoter demethylation and simultaneous transcriptional upregulation of proto-oncogene candidates with promoter homology, and phylogenetic footprinting of these promoters demonstrated potential recognition sites for the transcription factor BORIS. Aberrant BORIS expression correlated with upregulation of candidate proto-oncogenes in multiple human malignancies including primary non-small cell lung cancers and HNSCC, induced coordinated proto-oncogene specific promoter demethylation and expression in non-tumorigenic cells, and transformed NIH3T3 cells.
Coordinated, epigenetic unmasking of multiple genes with growth promoting activity occurs in aerodigestive cancers, and BORIS is implicated in the coordinated promoter demethylation and reactivation of epigenetically silenced genes in human cancers.
PMCID: PMC2654921  PMID: 19305507

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