A lack of DNA mismatch repair (MMR) is observed in approximately 20% of sporadic endometrial tumors, but few of these tumors have mutations in MSH2 or MLH1, the two major MMR genes. Promoter methylation is an important means of silencing transcription, and methylation of the MLH1 promoter has been reported as an important cause of MLH1 inactivation in endometrial cancers. Studies have shown that specific CpG sites within the MLH1 gene promoter are critical for gene expression, but other studies have shown that methylation of both more proximal and more distal sequences are important for MLH1 gene regulation. Here, we used a microsatellite instability assay and MLH1 immunohistochemistry to identify a subset of endometrial carcinomas of the endometrioid subtype lacking MMR. Sequencing of bisulphite-treated DNA from these tumors determined the methylation status of 42 CpG sites across the MLH1 promoter (spanning −204 to −702 bp upstream of the transcriptional start). Unlike the 4 normal endometrial samples that were unmethylated, 17 of 21 MMR-deficient samples showed complete or near-complete methylation and the remaining 4 MMR-deficient samples had a considerable degree of methylation (approximately 50% or greater). Five tumors demonstrated isolated unmethylated CpG sites, despite methylation throughout the rest of the promoter. This underscores the importance of examining the methylation status of at least several CpG sites within the promoter as methylation is not always consistent across DNA. Overall, our findings support the model that density of methylation of CpG sites across the MLH1 promoter is important in determining gene expression.
- bisulphite sequencing
- endometrial carcinomas
- microsatellite instability
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