Methylation of the 3p22 region encompassing MLH1 is representative of the CpG island methylator phenotype in colorectal cancer

Mod Pathol. 2011 Mar;24(3):396-411. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2010.212. Epub 2010 Nov 19.


Epigenetic silencing of cancer-related genes by promoter methylation is a frequent event in sporadic colorectal cancer. The CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP+), in which discrete genes throughout the genome are simultaneously methylated, and long-range epigenetic silencing, whereby multiple genes within contiguous chromosomal regions are methylated, have been described in subsets of colorectal cancer. We previously reported the concurrent methylation of the mismatch repair gene MLH1 with a cluster of flanking genes in chromosome region 3p22 in sporadic colorectal carcinoma exhibiting microsatellite instability and the BRAF V600E mutation. Herein, we aimed to determine whether methylation of MLH1 and neighbouring 3p22 genes, singly or concomitantly, correlate with the germline c.-93G>A SNP within the MLH1 promoter, CIMP+ and other clinicopathological and molecular features of the tumours. By studying a cohort of 946 sporadic colorectal cancer cases, we show a strong association between concordant methylation of ≥ 3 of five 3p22 genes with CIMP+ and the BRAF V600E mutation (P<0.001). These associations were independent of microsatellite instability, as concomitant methylation of 3p22 genes other than MLH1 was found in microsatellite stable cancers. These findings show that long-range epigenetic silencing across 3p22 occurs in the context of CIMP+ and the BRAF V600E mutation, and only gives rise to microsatellite instability when this process encompasses MLH1. Furthermore, the strong relationship between long-range epigenetic silencing of 3p22 and CIMP+ provides further evidence that these two purportedly distinct epigenetic phenotypes represent a single entity with a common aetiology. Low-level methylation of MLH1 and flanking 3p22 genes, as well as the BRAF V600E mutation, were detected in the apparently normal colonic mucosa of a small number of cases whose tumours showed a similar molecular profile, suggesting that these concurring genetic and epigenetic events can occur as a field defect in neoplastic development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics*
  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adenocarcinoma / surgery
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 3*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / surgery
  • CpG Islands / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • MutL Protein Homolog 1
  • Mutation
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • MLH1 protein, human
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • MutL Protein Homolog 1