Sensitive detection of DNA methylation

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Mar;983:120-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb05967.x.


In recent years, many molecular biomarkers have been discovered that are capable of distinguishing tumors from normal tissue. Among the different types of markers, DNA methylation markers stand out for their potential to provide a unique combination of specificity, sensitivity, high information content, and applicability to a wide variety of clinical specimens. Methylation markers are particularly suited for situations where sensitive detection is necessary, such as when tumor DNA is either scarce or diluted by excess normal DNA. One of the most widely used methods for measuring methylation levels, methylation-specific PCR (MSP), has been proved to be a very effective tool in situations requiring sensitive detection. The addition of fluorogenic probes makes these assays more informative, quantitative, and suitable for a clinical format. The field of sensitive detection is not limited to MSP; hence, an alternative methylation-sensitive amplification is discussed. PCR-based methylation assays have been applied to the detection of tumor DNA in a variety of body fluids, including serum, plasma, urine, sputum, and lavage fluids. In many cases, the sensitivity and specificity of these detection assays has been impressive, but important technological issues remain in areas such as sample preparation, assay design, and marker selection. Once these technical concerns have been addressed, the sensitive detection of methylation will provide a powerful diagnostic and prognostic tool, especially for the early detection of preneoplastic and neoplastic lesions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • Humans
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sensitivity and Specificity