Patterns of DNA methylation in individual colonic crypts reveal aging and cancer-related field defects in the morphologically normal mucosa

Carcinogenesis. 2010 Jun;31(6):1158-63. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgq077. Epub 2010 Apr 15.


Methylation of CpG islands (CGIs) in the promoter regions of tumour suppressor genes is common in colorectal cancer and occurs also in an age-dependent manner in the morphologically normal colorectal mucosa. In this study, we quantified the level of methylation of six genes associated with the Wnt signalling pathway (adenomatous polyposis coli, DKK1, WIF1, SFRP1, SFRP2 and SFRP5) together with long-interspersed nuclear element-1 as a surrogate for global methylation. DNA methylation was analysed in 260 individual colorectal crypts obtained from eight female patients with no evidence of colorectal disease and five with colorectal cancer. Significant variation in methylation levels for each of the six genes existed between crypts from the same biopsy. The variation in both global and gene-specific CGI methylation between crypts from the same individual was significantly less than that between individuals. Bisulphite sequencing provided insight into the mechanism of aberrant methylation showing that CGI methylation occurs in an 'all-or-none' manner by the directional spreading of methylation from further upstream. Univariate statistical analyses revealed that there were significant differences in crypt-specific methylation associated with both aging and disease status. A multivariate statistical modelling approach was able to distinguish both subject age and health status based on crypt-specific methylation profiles. Our results indicate that the differential methylation of genes associated with the Wnt signalling pathway affecting individual morphologically normal crypts may contribute to the age-dependent generation of the colonic field defect and, in combination with mutations, to the stepwise development of colorectal neoplasia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology*