Background & aims: Colorectal cancers (CRCs) with the CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) often associate with epigenetic silencing of hMLH1 and an activating mutation in the BRAF gene. However, the current CIMP criteria are ambiguous and often result in an underestimation of CIMP frequencies in CRCs. Because BRAF and KRAS belong to same signaling pathway, we hypothesized that not only mutations in BRAF but mutant KRAS may also associate with CIMP in CRC.
Methods: We determined the methylation status in a panel of 14 markers (7 canonical CIMP-related loci and 7 new loci), microsatellite instability status, and BRAF/KRAS mutations in a collection of 487 colorectal tissues that included both sporadic and Lynch syndrome patients.
Results: Methylation analysis of 7 CIMP-related markers revealed that the mean number of methylated loci was highest in BRAF-mutated CRCs (3.6) vs KRAS-mutated (1.2, P < .0001) or BRAF/KRAS wild-type tumors (0.7, P < .0001). However, analyses with 7 additional markers showed that the mean number of methylated loci in BRAF mutant tumors (4.4) was the same as in KRAS mutant CRCs (4.3, P = .8610). Although sporadic microsatellite instability high tumors had the highest average number of methylated markers (8.4), surprisingly, Lynch syndrome CRCs also demonstrated frequent methylation (5.1).
Conclusions: CIMP in CRC may result from activating mutations in either BRAF or KRAS, and the inclusion of additional methylation markers that correlate with mutant KRAS may help clarify CIMP in future studies. Additionally, aberrant DNA methylation is a common event not only in sporadic CRC but also in Lynch syndrome CRCs.