Potentialities of aberrantly methylated circulating DNA for diagnostics and post-treatment follow-up of lung cancer patients

Lung Cancer. 2013 Sep;81(3):397-403. doi: 10.1016/j.lungcan.2013.05.016. Epub 2013 Jun 24.


To date, aberrant DNA methylation has been shown to be one of the most common and early causes of malignant cell transformation and tumors of different localizations, including lung cancer. Cancer cell-specific methylated DNA has been found in the blood of cancer patients, indicating that cell-free DNA circulating in the blood (cirDNA) is a convenient tumor-associated DNA marker that can be used as a minimally invasive diagnostic test. In the current study, we investigated the methylation status in blood samples of 32 healthy donors and 60 lung cancer patients before and after treatment with neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by total tumor resection. Using quantitative methylation-specific PCR, we found that the index of methylation (IM), calculated as IM = 100 × [copy number of methylated/(copy number of methylated + unmethylated gene)], for the RASSF1A and RARB2 genes in the cirDNA isolated from blood plasma and cell-surface-bound cirDNA was elevated 2- to 3-fold in lung cancer patients compared with healthy donors. Random forest classification tree model based on these variables combined (RARB2 and RASSF1A IM in both plasma and cell-surface-bound cirDNA) lead to NSCLC patients' and healthy subjects' differentiation with 87% sensitivity and 75% specificity. An association of increased IM values with an advanced stage of non-small-cell lung cancer was found for RARB2 but not for RASSF1A. Chemotherapy and total tumor resection resulted in a significant decrease in the IM for RARB2 and RASSF1A, in both cirDNA fractions, comparable to the IM level of healthy subjects. Importantly, a rise in the IM for RARB2 was detected in patients within the follow-up period, which manifested in disease relapse at 9 months, confirmed with instrumental and pathologic methods. Our data indicate that quantitative analysis of the methylation status of the RARB2 and RASSF1A tumor suppressor genes in both cirDNA fractions is a useful tool for lung cancer diagnostics, evaluation of cancer treatment efficiency and post-treatment monitoring.

Keywords: Circulating DNA; Diagnostics; Lung cancer; Methylation; Monitoring; Prognosis; Tumor suppressor gene.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / therapy
  • DNA / blood*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Prognosis
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / genetics
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics


  • RARB2 protein, human
  • RASSF1 protein, human
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • DNA