Novel Methylated DNA Markers Discriminate Advanced Neoplasia in Pancreatic Cysts: Marker Discovery, Tissue Validation, and Cyst Fluid Testing

Am J Gastroenterol. 2019 Sep;114(9):1539-1549. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000000284.


Objectives: Pancreatic cystic lesions (PCLs) may be precancerous. Those likely to harbor high-grade dysplasia (HGD) or pancreatic cancer (PC) are targets for surgical resection. Current algorithms to predict advanced neoplasia (HGD/PC) in PCLs lack diagnostic accuracy. In pancreatic tissue and cyst fluid (CF) from PCLs, we sought to identify and validate novel methylated DNA markers (MDMs) that discriminate HGD/PC from low-grade dysplasia (LGD) or no dysplasia (ND).

Methods: From an unbiased whole-methylome discovery approach using predefined selection criteria followed by multistep validation on case (HGD or PC) and control (ND or LGD) tissues, we identified discriminant MDMs. Top candidate MDMs were then assayed by quantitative methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction on archival CF from surgically resected PCLs.

Results: Of 25 discriminant MDMs identified in tissue, 13 were selected for validation in 134 CF samples (21 cases [8 HGD, 13 PC], 113 controls [45 ND, 68 LGD]). A tree-based algorithm using 2 CF-MDMs (TBX15, BMP3) achieved sensitivity and specificity above 90%. Discrimination was significantly better by this CF-MDM panel than by mutant KRAS or carcinoembryonic antigen, with areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.93 (95% confidence interval: 0.86-0.99), 0.71 (0.57-0.85), and 0.72 (0.60-0.84), respectively. Cutoffs for the MDM panel applied to an independent CF validation set (31 cases, 56 controls) yielded similarly high discrimination, areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve = 0.86 (95% confidence interval: 0.77-0.94, P = 0.2).

Discussion: Novel MDMs discovered and validated in tissue accurately identify PCLs harboring HGD/PC. A panel of 2 MDMs assayed in CF yielded results with potential to enhance current risk prediction algorithms. Prospective studies are indicated to optimize and further evaluate CF-MDMs for clinical use.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 3 / genetics
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Cyst Fluid / metabolism
  • Cystadenoma, Serous / diagnosis
  • Cystadenoma, Serous / genetics*
  • Cystadenoma, Serous / pathology
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Pancreatic Cyst / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Cyst / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Cyst / pathology
  • Pancreatic Intraductal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Intraductal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Intraductal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Precancerous Conditions / diagnosis
  • Precancerous Conditions / genetics*
  • Precancerous Conditions / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras) / genetics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • T-Box Domain Proteins / genetics


  • BMP3 protein, human
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 3
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen
  • KRAS protein, human
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • TBX15 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)