Background & aims: We previously reported that a high degree of age-related methylation was found in both the dysplastic and nondysplastic mucosa of patients with ulcerative colitis (UC). Whether this translates into hypermethylation in UC-associated cancers (UC-Cs) is not known.
Methods: We evaluated the methylation status of 11 genes (MINT1, 2, 31, hMLH1, p16, p14, MGMT, HPP1, SFRP1, ERalpha, and LINE-1) in 48 UC-Cs, 21 UC-associated dysplasias, and 69 sporadic colorectal cancers (S-CRCs) using a quantitative bisulfite pyrosequencing analysis.
Results: Methylation levels in UC-Cs were lower than S-CRCs for all the genes except MGMT. A methylation index based on the average of Z-scores, for type C (cancer-specific genes: MINT1, MINT2, MINT31, hMLH1, p16, and p14) was -.97 in UC-Cs and .92 in S-CRCs (P = .009). That of type A (age-related genes: HPP1, SFRP1, and ERalpha) was -1.97 in UC-Cs and 1.24 in S-CRCs (P < .001). We observed a significant difference in the incidence of CpG island methylator phenotype between UC-Cs and S-CRCs (8 of 48 [17%] and 26 of 69 [38%]; P = .022). UC-associated dysplasias had significantly higher methylation of type A gene than UC-Cs (Z-score: .07 and -1.97, respectively; P < .001). By contrast, global DNA methylation measured using a LINE-1 assay was significantly higher in UC-Cs than in S-CRCs (58.2% vs 51.0%, P < .001).
Conclusions: DNA methylation alterations are uncommon in UC cancers. Given that both genetic and epigenetic changes are common in UC mucosa and dysplasias, we speculate that the genetic changes lead to a more aggressive clinical course than epigenetic changes.