Quantitative assessment of DNA methylation: Potential applications for disease diagnosis, classification, and prognosis in clinical settings

J Mol Med (Berl). 2006 May;84(5):365-77. doi: 10.1007/s00109-005-0034-0. Epub 2006 Jan 17.


Deregulation of the epigenome is now recognized as a major mechanism involved in the development and progression of human diseases such as cancer. As opposed to the irreversible nature of genetic events, which introduce changes in the primary DNA sequence, epigenetic modifications are reversible and leave the original DNA sequence intact. There is now evidence that the epigenetic landscape in humans undergoes modifications as the result of normal aging, with older individuals exhibiting higher levels of promoter hypermethylation compared to younger ones. Thus, it has been proposed that the higher incidence of certain disease in older individuals might be, in part, a consequence of an inherent change in the control and regulation of the epigenome. These observations are of remarkable clinical significance since the aberrant epigenetic changes characteristic of disease provide a unique platform for the development of new therapeutic approaches. In this review, we address the significance of DNA methylation changes that result or lead to disease, occur with aging, or may be the result of environmental exposure. We provide a detailed description of quantitative techniques currently available for the detection and analysis of DNA methylation and provide a comprehensive framework that may allow for the incorporation of protocols which include DNA methylation as a tool for disease diagnosis and classification, which could lead to the tailoring of therapeutic approaches designed to individual patient needs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Environment
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genetic Techniques*
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Prognosis
  • Reference Values
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Sulfites / chemistry


  • Genetic Markers
  • Sulfites
  • hydrogen sulfite