Homologous Recombination Deficiency (HRD) is a frequent feature of high-grade epithelial ovarian carcinoma (EOC), associated with sensitivity to PARP-inhibitors (PARPi). The best characterized causes of HRD in EOCs are germline or somatic mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Although promoter methylation is a well-known mechanism of gene transcriptional repression, few data have been published about BRCA gene methylation in EOCs. In this retrospective study, we quantitatively analyzed by pyrosequencing a selected series of 90 formalin-fixed (FFPE) primary EOCs without BRCA germline mutations. We identified 20/88 (22.7%) EOCs showing BRCA promoter methylation, including 17/88 (19.3%) in BRCA1 and 4/86 (4.6%) in BRCA2 promoters, one of which showing concomitant BRCA1 methylation. Mean methylation levels were 49.6% and 45.8% for BRCA1 and BRCA2, respectively, with methylation levels ≥50% in 10/20 methylated EOCs. Constitutive BRCA methylation was excluded by testing blood-derived DNA. In conclusion, pyrosequencing methylation analysis of BRCA genes is a robust, quantitative and sensitive assay applicable to FFPE samples. Remarkably, a considerable subset of germline BRCA-negative EOCs showed somatic methylation and, likely, HRD. A subpopulation of women with BRCA methylation, even without BRCA mutations, could potentially benefit from PARP-inhibitors; further clinical studies are needed to clarify the predictive role of somatic BRCA methylation of PARP-therapy response.
Keywords: BRCA genes; PARP inhibitors; ovarian cancer; promoter methylation; pyrosequencing.