Cancer arises as the consequence of mutations and epigenetic alterations that activate oncogenes and inactivate tumor suppressor genes. Through a genome-wide screen for methylated genes in colon neoplasms, we identified aberrantly methylated RET in colorectal cancer. RET, a transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinase and a receptor for the GDNF-family ligands, was one of the first oncogenes to be identified and has been shown to be an oncogene in thyroid cancer and pheochromocytoma. However, unexpectedly, we found RET is methylated in 27% of colon adenomas and in 63% of colorectal cancers, and now provide evidence that RET has tumor suppressor activity in colon cancer. The aberrant methylation of RET correlates with decreased RET expression, whereas the restoration of RET in colorectal cancer cell lines results in apoptosis. Furthermore, in support of a tumor suppressor function of RET, mutant RET has also been found in primary colorectal cancer. We now show that these mutations inactivate RET, which is consistent with RET being a tumor suppressor gene in the colon. These findings suggest that the aberrant methylation of RET and the mutational inactivation of RET promote colorectal cancer formation and that RET can serve as a tumor suppressor gene in the colon. Moreover, the increased frequency of methylated RET in colon cancers compared to adenomas suggests RET inactivation is involved in the progression of colon adenomas to cancer.
colon neoplasia; methylation; RET
AIM: To investigate the survival of individuals with colorectal cancer (CRC) with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD-associated CRC) compared to that of individuals without IBD diagnosed with CRC.
METHODS: Epidemiologic, clinical, and follow-up data were obtained from the Colon Cancer Family Registry (Colon CFR). IBD-associated cases were identified from self-report of physician diagnosis. For a subset of participants, medical records were examined to confirm self-report of IBD. Cox proportional hazards regression was applied to estimate adjusted hazard ratios (aHR) and 95%CI of mortality, comparing IBD-associated to non-IBD-associated CRC, adjusted for age at CRC diagnosis, sex, Colon CFR phase, and number of prior endoscopies. Following imputation to complete CRC stage information, adjustment for CRC stage was examined.
RESULTS: A total of 7202 CRC cases, including 250 cases of IBD-associated CRC, were analyzed. Over a twelve year follow-up period following CRC diagnosis, 2013 and 74 deaths occurred among non-IBD associated CRC and IBD-associated CRC patients, respectively. The difference in survival between IBD-associated and non-IBD CRC cases was not statistically significant (aHR = 1.08; 95%CI: 0.85-1.36). However, the assumption of proportional hazards necessary for valid inference from Cox regression was not met over the entire follow-up period, and we therefore limited analyses to within five years after CRC diagnosis when the assumption of proportional hazards was met. Over this period, there was evidence of worse prognosis for IBD-associated CRC (aHR = 1.36; 95%CI: 1.05-1.76). Results were similar when adjusted for CRC stage, or restricted to IBD confirmed in medical records.
CONCLUSION: These results support the hypothesis that IBD-associated CRC has a worse prognosis than non-IBD-associated CRC.
Colorectal cancer; Inflammatory bowel disease; Outcomes research; Cancer survival; Inflammation
The aberrant DNA methylation of tumor suppressor genes is well documented in esophageal cancer, including adenocarcinoma (EAC) and squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) as well as in Barrett's esophagus (BE), a pre-malignant condition that is associated with chronic acid reflux. BE is a well-recognized risk factor for the development of EAC, and consequently the standard of care is for individuals with BE to be placed in endoscopic surveillance programs aimed at detecting early histologic changes that associate with an increased risk of developing EAC. Yet because the absolute risk of EAC in individuals with BE is minimal, a clinical need in the management of BE is the identification of additional risk markers that will indicate individuals who are at a significant absolute risk of EAC so that they may be subjected to more intensive surveillance. The best currently available risk marker is the degree of dysplasia in endoscopic biopsies from the esophagus; however, this marker is suboptimal for a variety of reasons. To date, there are no molecular biomarkers that have been translated to widespread clinical practice. The search for biomarkers, including hypermethylated genes, for either the diagnosis of BE, EAC, or ESCC or for risk stratification for the development of EAC in those with BE is currently an area of active research. In this review, we summarize the status of identified candidate epigenetic biomarkers for BE, EAC, and ESCC. Most of these aberrantly methylated genes have been described in the context of early detection or diagnostic markers; others might prove useful for estimating prognosis or predicting response to treatment. Finally, special attention will be paid to some of the challenges that must be overcome in order to develop clinically useful esophageal cancer biomarkers.
DNA methylation; biomarker; Barrett's esophagus; esophageal adenocarcinoma; esophageal squamous cell carcinoma
Colonoscopy is associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer but may be more effective in reducing the risk of distal than proximal malignancies. To gain insight into the differences between proximal and distal colon endoscopic performance, we conducted a case-control study of advanced adenomas, the primary targets of colorectal endoscopy screening, and sessile serrated polyps (SSPs), newly recognized precursor lesions for a colorectal cancer subset that occurs most often in the proximal colon.
The Group Health-based study population included: 213 advanced adenoma cases, 172 SSP cases, and 1,704 controls ages 50–79, who received an index colonoscopy from 1998–2007. All participants completed a structured questionnaire covering endoscopy history. Participants with polyps underwent a standard pathology review to confirm the diagnosis and reclassify a subset as advanced adenomas or SSPs. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to estimate adjusted odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for the association between endoscopy and advanced adenomas and SSPs separately; site-specific analyses were completed.
Previous endoscopy was associated with decreased risk of advanced adenomas in both the rectum/distal colon (OR=0.38; 95% CI: 0.26–0.56) and proximal colon (OR=0.31; 95% CI: 0.19–0.52), but there was no statistically significant association between prior endoscopy and SSPs (OR=0.80; 95%CI: 0.56–1.13).
Our results support the hypothesis that the effect of endoscopy differs between advanced adenomas and SSPs. This may have implications for proximal colon cancer prevention and be due to the failure of endoscopy to detect/remove SSPs, or the hypothesized rapid development of SSPs.
Deregulation of DNA repair enzymes occurs in cancers and may create a susceptibility to chemotherapy. Expression levels of DNA repair enzymes have been shown to predict the responsiveness of cancers to certain chemotherapeutic agents. The RECQ helicases repair damaged DNA including damage caused by topoisomerase I inhibitors, such as irinotecan. Altered expression levels of these enzymes in colorectal cancer (CRC) may influence the response of the cancers to irinotecan. Thus, we assessed RECQ helicase (WRN, BLM, RECQL, RECQL4, and RECQL5) expression in primary CRCs, matched normal colon, and CRC cell lines. We found that BLM and RECQL4 mRNA levels are significantly increased in CRC (P = .0011 and P < .0001, respectively), whereas RECQL and RECQL5 are significantly decreased (P = .0103 and P = .0029, respectively). RECQ helicase expression patterns varied between specific molecular subtypes of CRCs. The mRNA and protein expression of the majority of the RECQ helicases was closely correlated, suggesting that altered mRNA expression is the predominant mechanism for deregulated RECQ helicase expression. Immunohistochemistry localized the RECQ helicases to the nucleus. RECQ helicase expression is altered in CRC, suggesting that RECQ helicase expression has potential to identify CRCs that are susceptible to specific chemotherapeutic agents.
It is postulated that high serum levels of insulin and insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1) mediate obesity-associated carcinogenesis. The relationship of insulin, IGF-1 and IGF binding proteins (IGFBP) with Barrett’s oesophagus (BO) has not been well examined.
Serum levels of insulin and IGFBPs in patients with BO were compared with two separate control groups: subjects with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and screening colonoscopy controls. Fasting insulin, IGF-1 and IGFBPs were assayed in the serum of BO cases (n = 135), GORD (n = 135) and screening colonoscopy (n = 932) controls recruited prospectively at two academic hospitals. Logistic regression was used to estimate the risk of BO.
Patients in the highest tertile of serum insulin levels had an increased risk of BO compared with colonoscopy controls (adjusted OR 2.02, 95% CI 1.15 to 3.54) but not compared with GORD controls (adjusted OR 1.55, 95% CI 0.76 to 3.15). Serum IGF-1 levels in the highest tertile were associated with an increased risk of BO (adjusted OR 4.05, 95% CI 2.01 to 8.17) compared with the screening colonoscopy control group but were not significantly different from the GORD control group (adjusted OR 0.57, 95% CI 0.27 to 1.17). IGFBP-1 levels in the highest tertile were inversely associated with a risk of BO in comparison with the screening colonoscopy controls (adjusted OR 0.11, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.24) but were not significantly different from the GORD control group (adjusted OR 1.04, 95% CI 0.49 to 2.16). IGFBP-3 levels in the highest tertile were inversely associated with the risk of BO compared with the GORD controls (OR 0.36, 95% CI 0.16 to 0.81) and also when compared with the colonoscopy controls (OR 0.40, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.79).
These results provide support for the hypothesis that the insulin/IGF signalling pathways have a role in the development of BO.
Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the world. It results from an accumulation of genetic and epigenetic changes in colon epithelial cells that transforms them into adenocarcinomas. There have been major advances in our understanding of cancer epigenetics over the last decade, particularly regarding aberrant DNA methylation. Assessment of the colon cancer epigenome has revealed that virtually all colorectal cancers have aberrantly methylated genes and the average colorectal cancer methylome has hundreds to thousands of abnormally methylated genes. As with gene mutations in the cancer genome, a subset of these methylated genes, called driver genes, is presumed to play a functional role in colorectal cancer. The assessment of methylated genes in colorectal cancers has also revealed a unique molecular subgroup of colorectal cancers called CpG Island Methylator Phenotype (CIMP) cancers; these tumors have a particularly high frequency of methylated genes. The advances in our understanding of aberrant methylation in colorectal cancer has led to epigenetic alterations being developed as clinical biomarkers for diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic applications. Progress in the assessment of epigenetic alterations in colorectal cancer and their clinical applications has shown that these alterations will be commonly used in the near future as molecular markers to direct the prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer.
Colon cancer; DNA methylation; epigenetics; biomarkers
Genetic influences may be discerned in families that have multiple affected members and may manifest as an earlier age of cancer diagnosis. In this study we determine whether cancers develop at an earlier age in multiplex Familial Barrett’s Esophagus (FBE) kindreds, defined by 3 or more members affected by Barrett’s esophagus (BE) or esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC).
Information on BE/EAC risk factors and family history was collected from probands at eight tertiary care academic hospitals. Age of cancer diagnosis and other risk factors were compared between non-familial (no affected relatives), duplex (two affected relatives), and multiplex (three or more affected relatives) FBE kindreds.
The study included 830 non-familial, 274 duplex and 41 multiplex FBE kindreds with 274, 133 and 43 EAC and 566, 288 and 103 BE cases, respectively. Multivariable mixed models adjusting for familial correlations showed that multiplex kindreds were associated with a younger age of cancer diagnosis (p = 0.0186). Median age of cancer diagnosis was significantly younger in multiplex compared to duplex and non-familial kindreds (57 vs. 62 vs. 63 yrs, respectively, p = 0.0448). Mean body mass index (BMI) was significantly lower in multiplex kindreds (p = 0.0033) as was smoking (p < 0.0001), and reported regurgitation (p = 0.0014).
Members of multiplex FBE kindreds develop EAC at an earlier age compared to non-familial EAC cases. Multiplex kindreds do not have a higher proportion of common risk factors for EAC, suggesting that this aggregation might be related to a genetic factor.
These findings indicate that efforts to identify susceptibility genes for BE and EAC will need to focus on multiplex kindreds.
Esophageal adenocarcinoma; Barrett’s esophagus; genetics; family history
The promise of personalized medicine is now a clinical reality, with colorectal cancer genetics at the forefront of this next major advance in clinical medicine. This is no more evident than in the recent advances in testing of colorectal cancers for specific molecular alterations in order to guide treatment with the monoclonal antibody therapies cetuximab and panitumumab, which target the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). In this review, we examine genetic mechanisms of colorectal cancer and how these alterations relate to emerging biomarkers for early detection and risk stratification (diagnostic markers), prognosis (prognostic markers), and the prediction of treatment responses (predictive markers).
Colon Cancer; Biomarkers; EGFR; KRAS; K-Ras; BRAF; Microsatellite Instability; MSI; Chromosome Instability; Cetuximab; Panitumumab; Personalized Medicine
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) results from the accumulation of deregulated tumor suppressor genes and/or oncogenes in hepatocytes. Inactivation of TP53 and inhibition of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) signaling are among the most common molecular events in human liver cancers. Thus, we assessed whether inactivation of TGF-β signaling, by deletion of the TGF-β receptor, type II (Tgfbr2), cooperates with Trp53 loss to drive HCC formation. Albumincre transgenic mice were crossed with floxed Trp53 and/or floxed Tgfbr2 mice to generate mice lacking p53 and/or Tgfbr2 in the liver. Deletion of Trp53 alone (Trp53KO) resulted in liver tumors in approximately 41% of mice by 10 months of age, while inactivation of Tgfbr2 alone (Tgfbr2KO) did not induce liver tumors. Surprisingly, deletion of Tgfbr2 in the setting of p53 loss (Trp53KO;Tgfbr2KO) decreased the frequency of mice with liver tumors to around 17% and delayed the age of tumor onset. Interestingly, Trp53KO and Trp53KO;Tgfbr2KO mice develop both HCC and cholangiocarcinomas, suggesting that loss of p53, independent of TGF-β, may affect liver tumor formation through effects on a common liver stem cell population. Assessment of potential mechanisms through which TGF-β signaling may promote liver tumor formation in the setting of p53 loss revealed a subset of Trp53KO tumors that express increased levels of alpha-fetoprotein. Furthermore, tumors from Trp53KO mice express increased TGF-β1 levels compared to tumors from Trp53KO;Tgfbr2KO mice. Increased phosphorylated Smad3 and ERK1/2 expression was also detected in the tumors from Trp53KO mice and correlated with increased expression of the TGF-β responsive genes, Pai1 and Ctgf.
TGF-β signaling paradoxically promotes the formation of liver tumors that arise in the setting of p53 inactivation.
HCC; CC; AFP; Smad3; ERK1/2
Supplement use among cancer patients is high, and folic acid intake in particular may adversely affect the progression of colorectal cancer. Few studies have evaluated the use of folic acid-containing supplements (FAS) and its predictors in colorectal cancer patients.
To assess the use of FAS, change in use, and its predictors after colorectal cancer diagnosis.
We used logistic regression models to investigate predictors of FAS use and its initiation after colorectal cancer diagnosis in 1,092 patients recruited through the Colon Cancer Family Registry (C-CFR).
The prevalence of FAS use was 35.4% before and 55.1% after colorectal cancer diagnosis (p=0.004). Women were more likely than men to use FAS after diagnosis (OR 1.47, 95% CI 1.14-1.89), as were those consuming more fruit (ptrend<0.0001) or vegetables (ptrend=0.001), and US residents (p<0.0001). Less likely to use FAS after diagnosis were non-white patients (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.45-0.97), current smokers (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.46-0.96), and those with higher meat intake (ptrend=0.03). Predictors of FAS initiation after diagnosis were generally similar to those of FAS use after diagnosis, though associations with race and vegetable intake were weaker and those with exercise stronger.
Our analysis showed substantial increases in the use of folic acid-containing supplements after diagnosis with colorectal cancer, with use or initiation more likely among women, Caucasians, U.S. residents, and those with a health-promoting lifestyle.
Studies of cancer prognosis that rely on pre-diagnostic exposure information may result in substantial misclassification.
Barrett's esophagus (BE) is a metaplastic process whereby the normal stratified, squamous esophageal epithelium is replaced by specialized intestinal epithelium. Barrett's is the only accepted precursor lesion for esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC), a solid tumor that is rapidly increasing in incidence in western countries. BE evolves into EAC through intermediate steps that involve increasing degrees of dysplasia. Current histologic criteria are quite subjective and the clinical behavior of BE is highly variable and difficult to predict using these standards. It is widely believed that molecular alterations present in BE and EAC will provide more precise prognostic and predictive markers for these conditions than the current clinical and histologic features in use. In order to further define molecular alterations that can classify unique groups of BE and EAC, we utilized methylation microarrays to compare the global gene methylation status of a collection of normal squamous, BE, BE + high-grade dysplasia (HGD), and EAC cases. We found distinct global methylation signatures, as well as differential methylation of specific genes, that discriminated these histological groups. We also noted high and low methylation epigenotypes among the BE and EAC cases. Additional validation of those CpG sites that distinguished BE from BE + HGD and EAC may lead to the discovery of useful biomarkers with potential clinical applications in the diagnosis and prognosis of BE and EAC.
Barrett's esophagus; esophageal adenocarcinoma; DNA methylation; methylation microarray
Colorectal cancer (CRC) remains a major cause of cancer mortality worldwide. Murine models have yielded critical insights into CRC pathogenesis, but they often fail to recapitulate advanced-disease phenotypes, notably metastasis and chromosomal instability (CIN). New models are thus needed to understand disease progression and to develop therapies. We sought to model advanced CRC by inactivating two tumor suppressors that are mutated in human CRCs, the Fbw7 ubiquitin ligase and p53. Here we report that Fbw7 deletion alters differentiation and proliferation in the gut epithelium and stabilizes oncogenic Fbw7 substrates, such as cyclin E and Myc. However, Fbw7 deletion does not cause tumorigenesis in the gut. In contrast, codeletion of both Fbw7 and p53 causes highly penetrant, aggressive, and metastatic adenocarcinomas, and allografts derived from these tumors form highly malignant adenocarcinomas. In vitro evidence indicates that Fbw7 ablation promotes genetic instability that is suppressed by p53, and we show that most Fbw7−/−; p53−/− carcinomas exhibit a CIN+ phenotype. We conclude that Fbw7 and p53 synergistically suppress adenocarcinomas that mimic advanced human CRC with respect to histopathology, metastasis, and CIN. This model thus represents a novel tool for studies of advanced CRC as well as carcinogenesis associated with ubiquitin pathway mutations.
The role of aberrant DNA methylation in Ewing sarcoma is not completely understood. The methylation status of 503 genes in 52 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded EWS tumors and 3 EWS cell lines was compared to human mesenchymal stem cell primary cultures (hMSCs) using bead chip methylation analysis. Relative expression of methylated genes was assessed in 5-Aza-2-deoxycytidine-(5-AZA)-treated EWS cell lines and in a cohort of primary EWS samples and hMSCs by gene expression and quantitative RT-PCR. 129 genes demonstrated statistically significant hypermethylation in EWS tumors compared to hMSCs. Thirty-six genes were profoundly methylated in EWS and unmethylated in hMSCs. 5-AZA treatment of EWS cell lines resulted in upregulation of expression of hundreds of genes including 162 that were increased by at least 2-fold. The expression of 19 of 36 candidate hypermethylated genes was increased following 5-AZA. Analysis of gene expression from an independent cohort of tumors confirmed decreased expression of six of nineteen hypermethylated genes (AXL, COL1A1, CYP1B1, LYN, SERPINE1,) and VCAN. Comparing gene expression and DNA methylation analyses proved to be an effective way to identify genes epigenetically regulated in EWS. Further investigation is ongoing to elucidate the role of these epigenetic alterations in EWS pathogenesis.
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in the USA, and more effective treatment of CRC is therefore needed. Advances in our understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of this malignancy have led to the development of novel molecule-targeted therapies. Among the most recent classes of targeted therapies being developed are inhibitors targeting the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathway. As one of the most frequently deregulated pathways in several human cancers, including CRC, aberrant PI3K signaling plays an important role in the growth, survival, motility and metabolism of cancer cells. Targeting this pathway therefore has considerable potential to lead to novel and more effective treatments for CRC. Preclinical and early clinical studies have revealed the potential efficacy of drugs that target PI3K signaling for the treatment of CRC. However, a major challenge that remains is to study these agents in phase III clinical trials to see whether these early successes translate into better patient outcomes. In this review we focus on providing an up-to-date assessment of our current understanding of PI3K signaling biology and its deregulation in the molecular pathogenesis of CRC. Advances in available agents and challenges in targeting the PI3K signaling pathway in CRC treatment will be discussed and placed in the context of the currently available therapies for CRC.
AKT; colorectal cancer; PI3 kinase; signaling; therapy
Evidence for a subset of colon cancers with low‐level CIMP that has unique molecular and clinical features compared with cancers with no CIMP and high‐level CIMP
DNA methylation; CpG island; MGMT; epigenetics
TGF-β is a pluripotent cytokine that mediates its effects through a receptor composed of TGF-β receptor type II (TGFBR2) and type I (TGFBR1). The TGF-β receptor can regulate Smad and nonSmad signaling pathways, which then ultimately dictate TGF-β's biological effects. We postulated that control of the level of TGFBR2 is a mechanism for regulating the specificity of TGF-β signaling pathway activation and TGF-β's biological effects. We used a precisely regulatable TGFBR2 expression system to assess the effects of TGFBR2 expression levels on signaling and TGF-β mediated apoptosis. We found Smad signaling and MAPK-ERK signaling activation levels correlate directly with TGFBR2 expression levels. Furthermore, p21 levels and TGF-β induced apoptosis appear to depend on relatively high TGFBR2 expression and on the activation of the MAPK-ERK and SMAD pathways. Thus, control of TGFBR2 expression and the differential activation of TGF-β signaling pathways appears to be a mechanism for regulating the specificity of the biological effects of TGF-β.
TGF-β; Smad; nonSmad; p21; apoptosis; signaling
Defining our understanding of the association between DNA alkylation and colon carcinogenesis
Cancer is the consequence of genetic and epigenetic alterations. Genetic mutations likely result in part from exposure to environmental carcinogens, giving rise to a large field of cancer-prevention study of these carcinogens and ways to develop strategies to avoid them. Our more-recent understanding of regulatory epigenetic mechanisms associated with DNA methylation, histone modifications, and microRNA production is increasing rapidly. The involvement of these processes in carcinogenesis raises the possibility that environmental exposures may promote or prevent cancer through affecting the epigenome. Modifying the epigenome to prevent cancer is particularly intriguing because epigenetic alterations are potentially reversible, unlike gene mutations, and because certain dietary factors, such as the B-vitamin folate, may affect genes’ DNA methylation status (as reported by Wallace et al., beginning on page XXX in this issue of the journal). Rapidly improving techniques for assessing epigenetic alterations promise to yield important insights for cancer prevention.
Familial aggregation of esophageal adenocarcinomas, esophagogastric junction adenocarcinomas, and their precursor Barrett’s esophagus has been termed Familial Barrett’s Esophagus (FBE). Numerous studies documenting increased familial risk for these diseases raise the hypothesis that there may be an inherited susceptibility to the development of BE and its associated cancers. In this study, using segregation analysis for a binary trait as implemented in S.A.G.E. 6.0.1, we analyzed data on 881singly ascertained pedigrees in order to determine whether FBE is caused by a common environmental or genetic agent and, if genetic, to identify the mode of inheritance of FBE. The inheritance models were compared by likelihood ratio tests and Akaike’s A Information Criterion. Results indicated that random environmental and/or multifactorial components were insufficient to fully explain the familial nature of FBE, but rather there is segregation of a major type transmitted from one generation to the next (p-value < 10−10). An incompletely dominant inheritance model together with a polygenic component fits the data best. For this dominant model, the estimated penetrance of the dominant allele is 0.1005 (95% confidence interval, CI: 0.0587 to 0.1667) and the sporadic rate is 0.0012 (95% CI: 0.0004 to 0.0042), corresponding to a relative risk of 82.53 (95% CI: 28.70 to 237.35), or odds ratio of 91.63 (95% CI: 32.01 to 262.29). This segregation analysis provides epidemiological evidence in support of one or more rare autosomally inherited dominant susceptibility allele(s) in FBE families, and hence motivates linkage analyses.
familial esophageal adenocarcinomas; complex segregation analysis; dominant major gene inheritance; polygenic component; likelihood; AIC; unified model
Mouse models of intestinal tumors have advanced our understanding of the role of gene mutations in colorectal malignancy. However, the utility of these systems for studying the role of epigenetic alterations in intestinal neoplasms remains to be defined. Consequently, we assessed the role of aberrant DNA methylation in the azoxymethane (AOM) rodent model of colon cancer. AOM induced tumors display global DNA hypomethylation, which is similar to human colorectal cancer. We next assessed the methylation status of a panel of candidate genes previously shown to be aberrantly methylated in human cancer or in mouse models of malignant neoplasms. This analysis revealed different patterns of DNA methylation that were gene specific. Zik1 and Gja9 demonstrated cancer-specific aberrant DNA methylation, whereas, Cdkn2a/p16, Igfbp3, Mgmt, Id4, and Cxcr4 were methylated in both the AOM tumors and normal colon mucosa. No aberrant methylation of Dapk1 or Mlt1 was detected in the neoplasms, but normal colon mucosa samples displayed methylation of these genes. Finally, p19Arf, Tslc1, Hltf, and Mlh1 were unmethylated in both the AOM tumors and normal colon mucosa. Thus, aberrant DNA methylation does occur in AOM tumors, although the frequency of aberrantly methylated genes appears to be less common than in human colorectal cancer. Additional studies are necessary to further characterize the patterns of aberrantly methylated genes in AOM tumors.
DNA methylation; azoxymethane; colorectal cancer; epigenetics
NTRK3 is a member of the neurotrophin receptor family and regulates cell survival. It appears to be a dependence receptor, and thus has the potential to act as an oncogene or as a tumor suppressor gene. NTRK3 is a receptor for NT-3 and when bound to NT-3 it induces cell survival, but when NT-3 free, it induces apoptosis. We identified aberrantly methylated NTRK3 in colorectal cancers through a genome-wide screen for hypermethylated genes. This discovery led us to assess whether NTRK3 could be a tumor suppressor gene in the colon. NTRK3 is methylated in 60% of colon adenomas and 67% of colon adenocarcinomas. NTRK3 methylation suppresses NTRK3 expression. Reconstitution of NTRK3 induces apoptosis in colorectal cancers, if NT-3 is absent. Furthermore, the loss of NTRK3 expression associates with neoplastic transformation in vitro and in vivo. We also found that a naturally occurring mutant NTRK3 found in human colorectal cancer inhibits the tumor suppressor activity of NTRK3. In summary, our findings suggest NTRK3 is a conditional tumor suppressor gene that is commonly inactivated in colorectal cancer by both epigenetic and genetic mechanisms whose function in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer depends on the expression status of its ligand, NT-3.
NTRK3 is a neurotrophin receptor and appears to be a dependence receptor in certain tissues. NTRK3 has been previously shown to be an oncogene in breast cancer and possibly hepatocellular carcinoma. Through a genome-wide methylation screen, we unexpectedly found that NTRK3 is commonly methylated in colorectal cancers but not in normal colon samples, which led us to assess whether NTRK3 could be a tumor suppressor gene in the colon. We now demonstrate that NTRK3 is frequently methylated in colorectal adenomas and cancers. Induced NTRK3 expression in the absence of its ligand, NT-3, causes apoptosis and suppresses in vitro anchorage-independent colony formation and in vivo tumor growth. Reintroduction of NT-3 releases colon cancer cells from NTRK3-mediated apoptosis, which is consistent with NTRK3 being a dependence receptor in the colon. Finally, somatic mutations of NTRK3 have been observed in primary human colorectal cancer. We provide evidence that a subset of these mutations inactivate tumor suppressor activities of NTRK3. These findings suggest that NTRK3 is a conditional tumor suppressor gene in the colon that is inactivated by both genetic and epigenetic mechanisms and whose function in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer depends on the expression status of its ligand, NT-3.
Colorectal cancer arises as a consequence of the accumulation of genetic alterations (gene mutations, gene amplification, and so on) and epigenetic alterations (aberrant DNA methylation, chromatin modifications, and so on) that transform colonic epithelial cells into colon adenocarcinoma cells. The loss of genomic stability and resulting gene alterations are key molecular pathogenic steps that occur early in tumorigenesis; they permit the acquisition of a sufficient number of alterations in tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes that transform cells and promote tumor progression. Two predominant forms of genomic instability that have been identified in colon cancer are microsatellite instability and chromosome instability. Substantial progress has been made to identify causes of chromosomal instability in colorectal cells and to determine the effects of the different forms of genomic instability on the biological and clinical behavior of colon tumors. In addition to genomic instability, epigenetic instability results in the aberrant methylation of tumor suppressor genes. Determining the causes and roles of genomic and epigenomic instability in colon tumor formation has the potential to yield more effective prevention strategies and therapeutics for patients with colorectal cancer.
BACKGROUND AND AIMS
Adenocarcinomas of the esophagus and adenocarcinomas of the gastroesophageal junction are postulated to be complex genetic diseases. Combined influences of environmental factors and genetic susceptibility likely influence the age at which these cancers develop. The aim of this study was to determine whether familiality and other recognized risk factors are associated with the development of these cancers at an earlier age.
A structured validated questionnaire was utilized to collect self reported data on gastro-esophageal reflux symptoms, risk factors for Barrett’s esophagus (BE) and family history, including age of cancer diagnosis in affected relatives from probands with BE, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, or adenocarcinoma of the gastro-esophageal junction, at five tertiary care academic hospitals. Medical records of all relatives reported to be affected were requested from hospitals providing this cancer care to confirm family histories. Familiality of BE/cancer, obesity (defined as body mass index > 30), gastro-esophageal reflux symptoms, and other risk factors were assessed for association with a young age of cancer diagnosis.
A total of 356, 216 non-familial and 140 familial, cancers were studied. The study population consisted of 292 (82%) men and 64 (18%) women. Mean age of cancer diagnosis was no different comparing familial and non-familial cancers, 62.6 yrs vs. 61.9 yrs, p = 0.70. There were also no significant differences in symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux, body mass index, race, gender, and smoking history between familial and non-familial cancers. Mean age of cancer diagnosis was significantly younger comparing those who were obese one year prior to diagnosis with those who were non-obese, mean age 58.99 yrs vs. 63.6 yrs, p = 0.008. Multivariable modeling of age at cancer diagnosis showed that obesity 1 year before diagnosis was associated with a younger age of cancer diagnosis (p=0.005) after adjustment for heartburn and regurgitation duration.
Obesity is associated with the development of esophageal and gastro-esophageal junctional adenocarcinomas at an earlier age. Familial cancers arise at the same age as non-familial cancers and have a similar risk factor profile.