Gene promoter hypermethylation is increasingly recognized to play an important role in cancer development through silencing of gene transcription. This study determined the methylation profiles of primary colorectal cancers and adenomas to elucidate the role of epigenetic changes in different stages of colorectal carcinogenesis. We examined the methylation profiles of 47 sporadic colorectal cancers, 36 colonic adenomas from patients without cancer and 34 colonic biopsies from patients without colonic lesions. Paired adjacent dysplasia tissues obtained from 17 cancer patients were also examined. Promoter hypermethylation in 10 tumor-related genes (APC, ATM, GSTP1, HLTF, MGMT, hMLH1, p14, p15, SOCS-1 and TIMP-3) were studied by methylation-specific PCR. Promoter hypermethylation was frequently detected in more than 40% of colonic cancers and adenomas in APC, ATM, HLTF, MGMT and hMLH1 genes (p < 0.0001 vs. normal). While low level of methylation was detected in p14, p15 and TIMP-3, there was no methylation detected in GSTP1 and SOCS-1. The frequencies of methylation were comparable between tumors and adenomas, and advanced and nonadvanced adenoma. In contrast, K-ras mutation was only detected in advanced adenomas and cancers. Concurrent methylation in >/= 3 genes was found in 66.7% adenomas and 68.1% cancers but not in normal colonic tissues. Methylation was associated with reduced protein expressions in colorectal adenomas and cancers. Moreover, methylation in ATM was more common in older cancer patients (p = 0.002), but there was no significant association between promoter hypermethylation and other clinicopathologic characteristics of cancer. Our study demonstrated the early and specific involvement of promoter hypermethylation in the colorectal adenoma-carcinoma sequence.
(c) 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.