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1.  Methylation of TFPI2 in Stool DNA: A Potential Novel Biomarker for the Detection of Colorectal Cancer 
Cancer research  2009;69(11):4691-4699.
We have used a gene expression array–based strategy to identify the methylation of tissue factor pathway inhibitor 2 (TFPI2), a potential tumor suppressor gene, as a frequent event in human colorectal cancers (CRC). TFPI2 belongs to the recently described group of embryonic cell Polycomb group (PcG)–marked genes that may be predisposed to aberrant DNA methylation in early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis. Aberrant methylation of TFPI2 was detected in almost all CRC adenomas (97%, n = 56) and stages I to IV CRCs (99%, n = 115). We further explored the potential of TFPI2 as a biomarker for the early detection of CRC using stool DNA–based assays in patients with nonmetastatic CRC and average-risk noncancer controls who were candidates for screening. TFPI2 methylation was detected in stool DNA from stage I to III CRC patients with a sensitivity of 76% to 89% and a specificity of 79% to 93%. Detection of TFPI2 methylation in stool DNA may act as a useful adjunct to the noninvasive strategies for screening of CRCs in the future.
PMCID: PMC3062162  PMID: 19435926
2.  Epigenetic silencing of neurofilament genes promotes an aggressive phenotype in breast cancer 
Epigenetics  2015;10(7):622-632.
Neurofilament heavy polypeptide (NEFH) has recently been identified as a candidate DNA hypermethylated gene within the functional breast cancer hypermethylome. NEFH exists in a complex with neurofilament medium polypeptide (NEFM) and neurofilament light polypeptide (NEFL) to form neurofilaments, which are structural components of the cytoskeleton in mature neurons. Recent studies reported the deregulation of these proteins in several malignancies, suggesting that neurofilaments may have a role in other cell types as well. Using a comprehensive approach, we studied the epigenetic inactivation of neurofilament genes in breast cancer and the functional significance of this event. We report that DNA methylation-associated silencing of NEFH, NEFL, and NEFM in breast cancer is frequent, cancer-specific, and correlates with clinical features of disease progression. DNA methylation-mediated inactivation of these genes occurs also in multiple other cancer histologies including pancreas, gastric, and colon. Restoration of NEFH function, the major subunit of the neurofilament complex, reduces proliferation and growth of breast cancer cells and arrests them in Go/G1 phase of the cell cycle along with a reduction in migration and invasion. These findings suggest that DNA methylation-mediated silencing of the neurofilament genes NEFH, NEFM, and NEFL are frequent events that may contribute to the progression of breast cancer and possibly other malignancies.
PMCID: PMC4622480  PMID: 25985363
breast cancer; DNA methylation; NEFH; NEFL; NEFM; TCGA
3.  Functional Identification of Cancer-Specific Methylation of CDO1, HOXA9, and TAC1 for the Diagnosis of Lung Cancer 
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) is the leading cause of cancer mortality in the world. Novel diagnostic biomarkers may augment both existing NSCLC screening methods as well as molecular diagnostic tests of surgical specimens to more accurately stratify and stage candidates for adjuvant chemotherapy. Hypermethylation of CpG islands is a common and important alteration in the transition from normal tissue to cancer.
Experimental Design
Following previously validated methods for the discovery of cancer-specific hypermethylation changes we treated 8 NSCLC cell lines with the hypomethylating agent deoxyazacitidine or trichostatin A. We validated the findings using a large publically available database and two independent cohorts of primary samples.
We identified >300 candidate genes. Using The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and employing extensive filtering to refine our candidate genes for the greatest ability to distinguish tumor from normal, we define a three-gene panel, CDO1, HOXA9, and TAC1, which we subsequently validate in two independent cohorts of primary NSCLC samples. This 3-gene panel is 100% specific, showing no methylation in 75 TCGA normal and 7 primary normal samples and is 83–99% sensitive for NSCLC depending on the cohort.
This degree of sensitivity and specificity may be of high value to diagnose the earliest stages of NSCLC. Addition of this 3-gene panel to other previously validated methylation biomarkers holds great promise in both early diagnosis and molecular staging of NSCLC.
PMCID: PMC4019442  PMID: 24486589
4.  Spectrin Repeat Containing Nuclear Envelope 1 and Forkhead Box Protein E1 Are Promising Markers for the Detection of Colorectal Cancer in Blood 
Identifying biomarkers in body fluids may improve the noninvasive detection of colorectal cancer. Previously, we identified N-Myc downstream-regulated gene 4 (NDRG4) and GATA binding protein 5 (GATA5) methylation as promising biomarkers for colorectal cancer in stool DNA. Here, we examined the utility of NDRG4, GATA5, and two additional markers [Forkhead box protein E1 (FOXE1) and spectrin repeat containing nuclear envelope 1 (SYNE1)] promoter methylation as biomarkers in plasma DNA. Quantitative methylation-specific PCR was performed on plasma DNA from 220 patients with colorectal cancer and 684 noncancer controls, divided in a training set and a test set. Receiver operating characteristic analysis was performed to measure the area under the curve of GATA5, NDRG4, SYNE1, and FOXE1 methylation. Functional assays were performed in SYNE1 and FOXE1 stably transfected cell lines. The sensitivity of NDRG4, GATA5, FOXE1, and SYNE1 methylation in all stages of colorectal cancer (154 cases, 444 controls) was 27% [95% confidence interval (CI), 20%–34%), 18% (95% CI, 12%–24%), 46% (95% CI, 38%– 54%), and 47% (95% CI, 39%–55%), with a specificity of 95% (95% CI, 93%–97%), 99% (95% CI, 98%–100%), 93% (95% CI, 91%–95%), and 96% (95% CI, 94%–98%), respectively. Combining SYNE1 and FOXE1, increased the sensitivity to 56% (95% CI, 48%–64%), while the specificity decreased to 90% (95% CI, 87%–93%) in the training set and to 58% sensitivity (95% CI, 46%–70%) and 91% specificity (95% CI, 80%–100%) in a test set (66 cases, 240 controls). SYNE1 overexpression showed no major differences in cell proliferation, migration, and invasion compared with controls. Overexpression of FOXE1 significantly decreased the number of colonies in SW480 and HCT116 cell lines. Overall, our data suggest that SYNE1 and FOXE1 are promising markers for colorectal cancer detection.
PMCID: PMC4316751  PMID: 25538088
5.  Frequent Inactivation of Cysteine Dioxygenase Type 1 Contributes to Survival of Breast Cancer Cells and Resistance to Anthracyclines 
Genome-wide DNA methylation analyses have identified hundreds of candidate DNA-hypermethylated genes in cancer. Comprehensive functional analyses provide an understanding of the biologic significance of this vast amount of DNA methylation data that may allow the determination of key epigenetic events associated with tumorigenesis.
Experimental Design
To study mechanisms of cysteine dioxygenase type 1 (CDO1) inactivation and its functional significance in breast cancer in a comprehensive manner, we screened for DNA methylation and gene mutations in primary breast cancers and analyzed growth, survival, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production in breast cancer cells with restored CDO1 function in the context of anthracycline treatment.
DNA methylation-associated silencing of CDO1 in breast cancer is frequent (60%), cancer specific, and correlates with disease progression and outcome. CDO1 function can alternatively be silenced by repressive chromatin, and we describe protein-damaging missense mutations in 7% of tumors without DNA methylation. Restoration of CDO1 function in breast cancer cells increases levels of ROS and leads to reduced viability and growth, as well as sensitization to anthracycline treatment. Priming with 5-azacytidine of breast cancer cells with epigenetically silenced CDO1 resulted in restored expression and increased sensitivity to anthracyclines.
We report that silencing of CDO1 is a critical epigenetic event that contributes to the survival of oxidative-stressed breast cancer cells through increased detoxification of ROS and thus leads to the resistance to ROS-generating chemotherapeutics including anthracyclines. Our study shows the importance of CDO1 inactivation in breast cancer and its clinical potential as a biomarker and therapeutic target to overcome resistance to anthracyclines.
PMCID: PMC3985391  PMID: 23630167
6.  Epigenetic Regulation of WNT Signaling Pathway Genes in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Associated Neoplasia 
WNT signaling pathway dysregulation is an important event in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer (CRC) with APC mutations seen in more than 80% of sporadic CRC. However, such mutations in the WNT signaling pathway genes are rare in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) associated neoplasia (dysplasia and cancer). This study examined the role of epigenetic silencing of WNT signaling pathway genes in the pathogenesis of IBD-associated neoplasia.
Paraffin-embedded tissue samples were obtained and methylation of ten WNT signaling pathway genes, including APC1A, APC2, SFRP1, SFRP2, SFRP4, SFRP5, DKK1, DKK3, WIF1 and LKB1, was analyzed. Methylation analysis was performed on 41 IBD samples, 27 normal colon samples (NCs), and 24 sporadic CRC samples.
Methylation of WNT signaling pathway genes is a frequent and early event in IBD and IBD-associated neoplasia. A progressive increase in the percentage of methylated genes in the WNT signaling pathway from NCs (4.2%) to IBD colitis (39.7%) to IBD-associated neoplasia (63.4%) was seen (NCs vs. IBD colitis, p<0.01; IBD colitis vs. IBD-associated neoplasia, p=0.01). In the univariate logistic regression model, methylation of APC2 (OR 4.7, 95% CI: 1.1–20.63, p=0.04), SFRP1 (OR 5.1, 95% CI: 1.1–31.9, p=0.04), and SFRP2 (OR 5.1, 95% CI: 1.1–32.3, p=0.04) was associated with progression from IBD colitis to IBD-associated neoplasia, while APC1A methylation was borderline significant (OR 4.1, 95% CI: 0.95–17.5, p=0.06). In the multivariate logistic regression model, methylation of APC1A and APC2 was more likely to be associated with IBD-associated neoplasia than IBD colitis. (OR APC1A: 6.4, 95% CI: 1.1–37.7 p=0.04; OR APC2 9.1, 95% CI: 1.3–61.7, p=0.02).
Methylation of the WNT signaling genes is an early event seen in patients with IBD colitis and there is a progressive increase in methylation of the WNT signaling genes during development of IBD-associated neoplasia. Moreover, methylation of APC1A, APC2, SFRP1, and SFRP2 appears to mark progression from IBD colitis to IBD-associated neoplasia, and these genes may serve as biomarkers for IBD-associated neoplasia.
PMCID: PMC3976145  PMID: 18716850
IBD; Methylation; WNT signaling; Colorectal cancer
7.  The epigenomic era opens 
Nature  2007;448(7153):548-549.
Readout of information from the genome depends on intricate regulation of how DNA is packaged by proteins. The great endeavour to reveal how this packaging operates pan-genomically is now under way.
PMCID: PMC3586530  PMID: 17671496
8.  Genomic and epigenomic integration identifies a prognostic signature in colon cancer 
The importance of genetic and epigenetic alterations maybe in their aggregate role in altering core pathways in tumorigenesis.
Experimental Design
Merging genome-wide genomic and epigenomic alterations, we identify key genes and pathways altered in colorectal cancers (CRC). DNA Methylation analysis was tested for predicting survival in CRC patients using Cox proportional hazard model.
We identified 29 low frequency mutated genes that are also inactivated by epigenetic mechanisms in CRC. Pathway analysis showed the extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling pathway is silenced in CRC. 6 ECM pathway genes were tested for their prognostic potential in large CRC cohorts (n=777). DNA Methylation of IGFBP3 and EVL predicted for poor survival (IGFBP3: HR=2.58, 95%CI:1.37-4.87, p=0.004; EVL: HR=2.48, 95%CI:1.07-5.74, p=0.034) and simultaneous methylation of multiple genes predicted significantly worse survival (HR=8.61, 95%CI:2.16-34.36, p<0.001 for methylation of IGFBP3, EVL, CD109 and FLNC). DNA Methylation of IGFBP3 and EVL was validated as a prognostic marker in an independent contemporary matched cohort (IGFBP3 HR=2.06, 95% CI:1.04-4.09, p=0.038; EVL HR=2.23, 95%CI:1.00-5.0, p=0.05) and EVL DNA methylation remained significant in a secondary historical validation cohort (HR=1.41, 95%CI:1.05-1.89, p=0.022). Moreover, DNA methylation of selected ECM genes helps to stratify the high-risk Stage 2 colon cancers patients who would benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy (HR: 5.85, 95%CI:2.03-16.83, p=0.001 for simultaneous methylation of IGFBP3, EVL and CD109).
CRC that have silenced in ECM pathway components show worse survival suggesting that our finding provides novel prognostic biomarkers for CRC and reflects the high importance of integrative analyses linking genetic and epigenetic abnormalities with pathway disruption in cancer.
PMCID: PMC3077819  PMID: 21278247
DNA Methylation; Extracellular Matrix Pathway; Prognostic Biomarker; Colorectal cancer
9.  Aberrant Silencing of Cancer Related Genes by CpG Hypermethylation Occurs Independently of Their Spatial Organization in the Nucleus 
Cancer research  2010;70(20):8015-8024.
Aberrant promoter DNA-hypermethylation and repressive chromatin constitutes a frequent mechanism of gene inactivation in cancer. There is great interest in dissecting the mechanisms underlying this abnormal silencing. Studies have shown changes in nuclear organization of chromatin in tumor cells as well as association of aberrant methylation with long range silencing of neighboring genes. Further, certain tumors show a high incidence of promoter methylation termed as the CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP). Here we have analyzed the role of nuclear chromatin architecture for genes in hypermethylated inactive versus non-methylated active states and its relation with long range silencing and CIMP. Using combined immunostaining for active/repressive chromatin marks and FISH in colorectal cancer cell lines we show that aberrant silencing of these genes occurs without requirement for their being positioned at heterochromatic domains. Importantly, hypermethylation, even when associated with long-range epigenetic silencing of neighboring genes, occurs independent of their euchromatic or heterochromatic location. Together, these results indicate that, in cancer, extensive changes around promoter chromatin of individual genes, or gene clusters, can potentially occur locally without preference for nuclear position and/or causing repositioning. These findings have important implications for understanding relationships between nuclear organization and gene expression patterns in cancer.
PMCID: PMC3031132  PMID: 20736368
DNA hypermethylation; nuclear organization; long range silencing; heterochromatin; colon cancer
10.  Concomitant promoter methylation of multiple genes in lung adenocarcinomas from current, former and never smokers 
Carcinogenesis  2009;30(7):1132-1138.
Aberrant promoter hypermethylation is one of the major mechanisms in carcinogenesis and some critical growth regulatory genes have shown commonality in methylation across solid tumors. Twenty-six genes, 14 identified through methylation in colon and breast cancers, were evaluated using primary lung adenocarcinomas (n = 175) from current, former and never smokers. Tumor specificity of methylation was validated through comparison of 14 lung cancer cell lines to normal human bronchial epithelial cells derived from bronchoscopy of 20 cancer-free smokers. Twenty-five genes were methylated in 11–81% of primary tumors. Prevalence for methylation of TNFRSF10C, BHLHB5 and BOLL was significantly higher in adenocarcinomas from never smokers than smokers. The relation between methylation of individual genes was examined using pairwise comparisons. A significant association was seen between 138 (42%) of the possible 325 pairwise comparisons. Most notably, methylation of MMP2, BHLHB4 or p16 was significantly associated with methylation of 16–19 other genes, thus predicting for a widespread methylation phenotype. Kaplan–Meier log-rank test and proportional hazard models identified a significant association between methylation of SULF2 (a pro-growth, -angiogenesis and -migration gene) and better patient survival (hazard ratio = 0.23). These results demonstrate a high degree of commonality for targeted silencing of genes between lung and other solid tumors and suggest that promoter hypermethylation in cancer is a highly co-ordinated event.
PMCID: PMC2704285  PMID: 19435948
11.  A Requirement for DICER to Maintain Full Promoter CpG Island Hypermethylation in Human Cancer Cells 
Cancer research  2008;68(8):2570-2575.
Promoter hypermethylation is a prevalent phenomenon, found in virtually all cancer types studied thus far, and accounts for tumor suppressor gene silencing in the absence of genetic mutations. The mechanism behind the establishment and maintenance of such aberrant hypermethylation has been under intense study. Here, we have uncovered a link between aberrant gene silencing associated with promoter CpG island DNA methylation and the siRNA/miRNA processing enzyme, DICER, in human cancer cells. By comparing demethylated HCT116 colon cancer cells with HCT116 cells genetically rendered hypomorphic for DICER, we identified a group of epigenetically silenced genes that became reactivated in the absence of functional DICER. This reactivation is associated with a dramatic loss of localized promoter DNA hypermethylation. Thus, intact DICER is required to maintain full promoter DNA hypermethylation of select epigenetically silenced loci in human cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC2828041  PMID: 18413723
12.  Epigenetic Inactivation of the Canonical Wnt Antagonist SRY-Box Containing Gene 17 in Colorectal Cancer 
Cancer research  2008;68(8):2764.
SRY-box containing gene 17 (Sox17) is a member of the high mobility group (HMG) transcription factor superfamily, which plays critical roles in the regulation of development and stem/precursor cell function, at least partly through repression of Wnt pathway activity. Modulators controlling aberrant Wnt signaling activation are frequently disrupted in human cancers through complementary effects of epigenetic and genetic changes. Our recent global analysis of CpG island hypermethylation and gene expression in colorectal cancer (CRC) cell lines revealed that SOX17 gene silencing is associated with DNA hypermethylation of a CpG island in the promoter region. Here, we report that CpG island methylation-dependent silencing of SOX17 occurs in 100% of CRC cell lines, 86% of colorectal adenomas, 100% of stage I and II CRC, 89% of stage III CRC, 89% of primary esophageal cancer, and 50% of non–small cell lung cancer. Overexpression of SOX17 in HCT116 CRC cells inhibits colony growth and β-catenin/T-cell factor–dependent transcription. Structure-based deletion analysis further shows the presence of a Wnt signaling repression domain in the SOX17 HMG box. Together, our studies suggest that SOX17 is a negative modulator of canonical Wnt signaling, and that SOX17 silencing due to promoter hypermethylation is an early event during tumorigenesis and may contribute to aberrant activation of Wnt signaling in CRC.
PMCID: PMC2823123  PMID: 18413743
13.  Abnormal DNA Methylation of CD133 in Colorectal and Glioblastoma Tumors 
Cancer research  2008;68(19):8094-8103.
Much recent effort has focused on identifying and characterizing cellular markers that distinguish tumor propagating cells (TPCs) from more differentiated progeny. We report here an unusual promoter DNA methylation pattern for one such marker, the cell surface antigen CD133 (Prominin 1). This protein has been extensively used to enrich putative cancer propagating stem-like cell populations in epithelial tumors, and especially, glioblastomas. We find that, within individual cell lines of cultured colon cancers and glioblastomas, the promoter CpG island of CD133 is DNA methylated, primarily, in cells with absent or low expression of the marker protein whereas lack of such methylation is evident in purely CD133+ cells. Differential histone modification marks of active versus repressed genes accompany these DNA methylation changes. This heterogeneous CpG island DNA methylation status in the tumors is unusual in that other DNA hypermethylated genes tested in such cultures preserve their methylation patterns between separated CD133+ and CD133− cell populations. Furthermore, the CD133 DNA methylation seems to constitute an abnormal promoter signature since it is not found in normal brain and colon but only in cultured and primary tumors. Thus, the DNA methylation is imposed on the transition between the active versus repressed transcription state for CD133 only in tumors. Our findings provide additional insight for the dynamics of aberrant DNA methylation associated with aberrant gene silencing in human tumors.
PMCID: PMC2744404  PMID: 18829568
CD133; DNA methylation; tumor propagating cells (TPC); histone modifications; cancer
14.  A Stem Cell-Like Chromatin Pattern May Predispose Tumor Suppressor Genes to DNA Hypermethylation and Silencing in Adult Cancers 
Nature genetics  2007;39(2):237-242.
Adult cancers may derive from stem or early progenitor cells1,2. Epigenetic modulation of gene expression is essential for normal function of these early cells, but is highly abnormal in cancers, which often exhibit aberrant promoter CpG island hypermethylation and transcriptional silencing of tumor suppressor genes and pro-differentiation factors3-5. We find that, for such genes, both normal and malignant embryonic cells generally lack the gene DNA hypermethylation found in adult cancers. In embryonic stem (ES) cells, these genes are held in a “transcription ready” state mediated by a “bivalent” promoter chromatin pattern consisting of the repressive polycomb group (PcG) H3K27me mark plus the active mark, H3K4me. However, embryonic carcinoma (EC) cells add two key repressive marks, H3K9me2 and H3K9me3, both associated with DNA hypermethylated genes in adult cancers6-8. We hypothesize that cell chromatin patterns and transient silencing of these important growth regulatory genes in stem or progenitor cells of origin for cancer may leave these genes vulnerable to aberrant DNA hypermethylation and heritable gene silencing in adult tumors.
PMCID: PMC2744394  PMID: 17211412
15.  Defining a Chromatin Pattern That Characterizes DNA Hypermethylated Genes in Colon Cancer Cells 
Cancer research  2008;68(14):5753-5759.
Epigenetic gene regulation is a key determinant of heritable gene expression patterns and is critical for normal cellular function. Dysregulation of epigenetic transcriptional control is a fundamental feature of cancer, particularly manifesting as increased promoter DNA methylation with associated aberrant gene silencing which plays a significant role in tumor progression. We now globally map key chromatin parameters for genes with promoter CpG island DNA hypermethylation in colon cancer cells by combining micraoarray gene expression analyses with ChIP on chip technology. We first show that the silent state of such genes universally correlates with a broad, low level distribution of the PcG mediated histone modification, methylation of lysine 27 of histone 3 (H3K27me) and a very low level of the active mark, H3K4me2. This chromatin pattern, and particularly H3K4me2 levels, crisply separates DNA hypermethylated genes from those where histone deacetylation is responsible for transcriptional silencing. Moreover, the chromatin pattern can markedly enhance identification of truly silent and DNA hypermethylated genes. We additionally find that when DNA hypermethylated genes are de-methylated and re-expressed, they adopt a “bivalent” chromatin pattern which is associated with the poised gene expression state of a large group of ES cell genes, and is characterized by an increase in levels of both the H3K27me3 and H3K4me2 marks. Our data have great relevance for the increasing interest in re-expression of DNA hypermethylated genes for the treatment of cancer.
PMCID: PMC2706536  PMID: 18632628
DNA methylation; chromatin; histone modifications; cancer; epigenetic
16.  Short dsRNA Induces Transcriptional Gene Silencing in Human Cancer Cells in the Absence of DNA Methylation 
Nature genetics  2005;37(8):906-910.
Double stranded RNAs (dsRNA) molecules targeted to gene promoter regions can induce transcriptional gene silencing in a DNA cytosine methylation dependent manner in plants (RNA-dependent DNA methylation or RdDM).1-3 Whether a similar mechanism exists in mammalian systems is a vital and currently controversial issue.4-6 DNA methylation is an important component in mammalian gene silencing for normal processes such as gene imprinting and x-chromosome inactivation,7-9 and aberrant CpG island hypermethylation at tumor suppressor promoters is associated with transcriptional silencing and loss of gene function in cancer.10 Hence, we investigated whether RdDM may operate in human cancers to mediate epigenetic silencing using the endogenous CDH1 gene as a potential target. The loss of this cell-cell adhesion factor facilitates the metastatic process, and its promoter is frequently hypermethylated in breast and other cancers.11-14 We find that, although small dsRNAs targete exclusively to the CDH1 promoter can effectively induce transcriptional repression with chromatin changes characteristic of inactive promoters, this is entirely independent of DNA methylation. Moreover, we can accomplish such silencing in a cancer cell line genetically modified such that it lacks virtually any capacity to methylate DNA.
PMCID: PMC2659476  PMID: 16025112
17.  Convergence of Mutation and Epigenetic Alterations Identifies Common Genes in Cancer That Predict for Poor Prognosis  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e114.
The identification and characterization of tumor suppressor genes has enhanced our understanding of the biology of cancer and enabled the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. Whereas in past decades, a handful of tumor suppressors have been slowly identified using techniques such as linkage analysis, large-scale sequencing of the cancer genome has enabled the rapid identification of a large number of genes that are mutated in cancer. However, determining which of these many genes play key roles in cancer development has proven challenging. Specifically, recent sequencing of human breast and colon cancers has revealed a large number of somatic gene mutations, but virtually all are heterozygous, occur at low frequency, and are tumor-type specific. We hypothesize that key tumor suppressor genes in cancer may be subject to mutation or hypermethylation.
Methods and Findings
Here, we show that combined genetic and epigenetic analysis of these genes reveals many with a higher putative tumor suppressor status than would otherwise be appreciated. At least 36 of the 189 genes newly recognized to be mutated are targets of promoter CpG island hypermethylation, often in both colon and breast cancer cell lines. Analyses of primary tumors show that 18 of these genes are hypermethylated strictly in primary cancers and often with an incidence that is much higher than for the mutations and which is not restricted to a single tumor-type. In the identical breast cancer cell lines in which the mutations were identified, hypermethylation is usually, but not always, mutually exclusive from genetic changes for a given tumor, and there is a high incidence of concomitant loss of expression. Sixteen out of 18 (89%) of these genes map to loci deleted in human cancers. Lastly, and most importantly, the reduced expression of a subset of these genes strongly correlates with poor clinical outcome.
Using an unbiased genome-wide approach, our analysis has enabled the discovery of a number of clinically significant genes targeted by multiple modes of inactivation in breast and colon cancer. Importantly, we demonstrate that a subset of these genes predict strongly for poor clinical outcome. Our data define a set of genes that are targeted by both genetic and epigenetic events, predict for clinical prognosis, and are likely fundamentally important for cancer initiation or progression.
Stephen Baylin and colleagues show that a combined genetic and epigenetic analysis of breast and colon cancers identifies a number of clinically significant genes targeted by multiple modes of inactivation.
Editors' Summary
Cancer is one of the developed world's biggest killers—over half a million Americans die of cancer each year, for instance. As a result, there is great interest in understanding the genetic and environmental causes of cancer in order to improve cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
Cancer begins when cells begin to multiply out of control. DNA is the sequence of coded instructions—genes—for how to build and maintain the body. Certain “tumor suppressor” genes, for instance, help to prevent cancer by preventing tumors from developing, but changes that alter the DNA code sequence—mutations—can profoundly affect how a gene works. Modern techniques of genetic analysis have identified genes such as tumor suppressors that, when mutated, are linked to the development of certain cancers.
Why Was This Study Done?
However, in recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that mutations are neither necessary nor sufficient to explain every case of cancer. This has led researchers to look at so-called epigenetic factors, which also alter how a gene works without altering its DNA sequence. An example of this is “methylation,” which prevents a gene from being expressed—deactivates it—by a chemical tag. Methylation of genes is part of the normal functioning of DNA, but abnormal methylation has been linked with cancer, aging, and some rare birth abnormalities.
Previous analysis of DNA from breast and colon cancer cells had revealed 189 “candidate cancer genes”—mutated genes that were linked to the development of breast and colon cancer. However, it was not clear how those mutations gave rise to cancer, and individual mutations were present in only 5% to 15% of specific tumors. The authors of this study wanted to know whether epigenetic factors such as methylation contributed to causing the cancers.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first identified 56 of the 189 candidate cancer genes as likely tumor suppressors and then determined that 36 of these genes were methylated and deactivated, often in both breast and colon (laboratory-grown) cancer cells. In nearly all cases, the methylated genes were not active but could be reactivated by being demethylated. They further showed that, in normal colon and breast tissue samples, 18 of the 36 genes were unmethylated and functioned normally, but in cells taken from breast and colon cancer tumors they were methylated.
In contrast to the genetic mutations, the 18 genes were frequently methylated across a range of tumor types, and eight genes were methylated in both the breast and colon cancers. The authors found by reviewing the genetics and epigenetics of those 18 genes in breast and colon cancer that they were either mutated, methylated, or both. A literature review showed that at least six of the 18 genes were known to have tumor suppressor properties, and the authors determined that 16 were located in parts of DNA known to be missing from cells taken from a range of cancer tumors.
Finally, the researchers analyzed data on cancer cases to show that methylation of these 18 genes was correlated with reduced function of these genes in tumors and with a greater likelihood that a cancer will be terminal or spread to other parts of the body.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers considered only the 189 candidate cancer genes found in one previous study and not other genes identified elsewhere. They also did not consider the biological effects of the individual mutations found in those genes. Despite this, they have demonstrated that methylation of specific genes is likely to play a role in the development of breast and/or colon cancer cells either together with mutations or independently, most likely by turning off their tumor suppression function.
More broadly, however, the study adds to the evidence that future analysis of the role of genes in cancer should include epigenetic as well as genetic factors. In addition, the authors have also shown that a number of these genes may be useful for predicting clinical outcomes for a range of tumor types.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A December 2006 PLoS Medicine Perspective article reviews the value of examining methylation as a factor in common cancers and its use for early detection
The Web site of the American Cancer Society has a wealth of information and resources on a variety of cancers, including breast and colon cancer is a nonprofit organization providing information about breast cancer on the Web, including research news
Cancer Research UK provides information on cancer research
The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins publishes background information on the authors' research on methylation, setting out its potential for earlier diagnosis and better treatment of cancer
PMCID: PMC2429944  PMID: 18507500
18.  Comparing the DNA Hypermethylome with Gene Mutations in Human Colorectal Cancer 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(9):e157.
We have developed a transcriptome-wide approach to identify genes affected by promoter CpG island DNA hypermethylation and transcriptional silencing in colorectal cancer. By screening cell lines and validating tumor-specific hypermethylation in a panel of primary human colorectal cancer samples, we estimate that nearly 5% or more of all known genes may be promoter methylated in an individual tumor. When directly compared to gene mutations, we find larger numbers of genes hypermethylated in individual tumors, and a higher frequency of hypermethylation within individual genes harboring either genetic or epigenetic changes. Thus, to enumerate the full spectrum of alterations in the human cancer genome, and to facilitate the most efficacious grouping of tumors to identify cancer biomarkers and tailor therapeutic approaches, both genetic and epigenetic screens should be undertaken.
Author Summary
Loss of gene expression in association with aberrant accumulation of 5-methylcytosine in gene promoter CpG islands is a common feature of human cancer. Here, we describe a method to discover these genes that permits identification of hundreds of novel candidate cancer genes in any cancer cell line. We now estimate that as much as 5% of colon cancer genes may harbor aberrant gene hypermethylation and we term these the cancer “promoter CpG island DNA hypermethylome.” Multiple mutated genes recently identified via cancer resequencing efforts are shown to be within this hypermethylome and to be more likely to undergo epigenetic inactivation than genetic alteration. Our approach allows derivation of new potential tumor biomarkers and potential pathways for therapeutic intervention. Importantly, our findings illustrate that efforts aimed at complete identification of the human cancer genome should include analyses of epigenetic, as well as genetic, changes.
PMCID: PMC1988850  PMID: 17892325

Results 1-18 (18)