Germline mutations in human mismatch repair (MMR) genes yield a predisposition for the hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) syndrome. In contrast to hMLH1 and hMSH2, little is known about the overall involvement of hMSH6 in colorectal cancer. We investigated 82 tumors from patients who fulfilled the Bethesda guidelines for HNPCC as well as 146 sporadic tumors, analyzing microsatellite instability and expression of the 4 MMR proteins hMSH6, hMSH2, hMLH1 and hPMS2. Four tumors with lost expression and 1 tumor with cytoplasmic expression of hMSH6 were identified. Sequence analysis revealed germline mutations in 4 of the 5 patients, including 1 patient with sporadic disease. The lost or reduced expression of hMSH2 and hMLH1 was always identical to its heterodimerization partners, hMSH6 and hPMS2, respectively. Furthermore, hMSH2 expression was reduced upon hMSH6 deficiency. Abnormal expression of 1 or more of the 4 proteins was always associated with a high level of microsatellite instability (MSI-H). Conversely, all but 1 of the 44 MSI-H tumors had abnormal expression of 1 or more of the proteins, basically excluding additional genes associated with the MSI-H phenotype. We conclude that the involvement of somatic or epigenetic hMSH6 inactivation in colorectal cancer is rare.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.