Background: Adenocarcinomas located near the gastroesophageal junction have unclear etiology and are difficult to classify. We used DNA methylation analysis to identify subtype-specific markers and new subgroups of gastroesophageal adenocarcinomas, and studied their association with epidemiological risk factors and clinical outcomes.
Methodology/principal findings: We used logistic regression models and unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis of 74 DNA methylation markers on 45 tumor samples (44 patients) of esophageal and gastric adenocarcinomas obtained from a population-based case-control study to uncover epigenetic markers and cluster groups of gastroesophageal adenocarcinomas. No distinct epigenetic differences were evident between subtypes of gastric and esophageal cancers. However, we identified two gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma subclusters based on DNA methylation profiles. Group membership was best predicted by GATA5 DNA methylation status. We analyzed the associations between these two epigenetic groups and exposure using logistic regression, and the associations with survival time using Cox regression in a larger set of 317 tumor samples (278 patients). There were more males with esophageal and gastric cardia cancers in Cluster Group 1 characterized by higher GATA5 DNA methylation values (all p<0.05). This group also showed associations of borderline statistical significance with having ever smoked (p-value = 0.07), high body mass index (p-value = 0.06), and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (p-value = 0.07). Subjects in cluster Group 1 showed better survival than those in Group 2 after adjusting for tumor differentiation grade, but this was not found to be independent of tumor stage.
Conclusions/significance: DNA methylation profiling can be used in population-based studies to identify epigenetic subclasses of gastroesophageal adenocarcinomas and class-specific DNA methylation markers that can be linked to epidemiological data and clinical outcome. Two new epigenetic subgroups of gastroesophageal adenocarcinomas were identified that differ to some extent in their survival rates, risk factors of exposure, and GATA5 DNA methylation.