Filtering High-Dimensional Methylation Marks With Extremely Small Sample Size: An Application to Gastric Cancer Data

Front Genet. 2021 Jul 12;12:705708. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2021.705708. eCollection 2021.


DNA methylations in critical regions are highly involved in cancer pathogenesis and drug response. However, to identify causal methylations out of a large number of potential polymorphic DNA methylation sites is challenging. This high-dimensional data brings two obstacles: first, many established statistical models are not scalable to so many features; second, multiple-test and overfitting become serious. To this end, a method to quickly filter candidate sites to narrow down targets for downstream analyses is urgently needed. BACkPAy is a pre-screening Bayesian approach to detect biological meaningful patterns of potential differential methylation levels with small sample size. BACkPAy prioritizes potentially important biomarkers by the Bayesian false discovery rate (FDR) approach. It filters non-informative sites (i.e., non-differential) with flat methylation pattern levels across experimental conditions. In this work, we applied BACkPAy to a genome-wide methylation dataset with three tissue types and each type contains three gastric cancer samples. We also applied LIMMA (Linear Models for Microarray and RNA-Seq Data) to compare its results with what we achieved by BACkPAy. Then, Cox proportional hazards regression models were utilized to visualize prognostics significant markers with The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) data for survival analysis. Using BACkPAy, we identified eight biological meaningful patterns/groups of differential probes from the DNA methylation dataset. Using TCGA data, we also identified five prognostic genes (i.e., predictive to the progression of gastric cancer) that contain some differential methylation probes, whereas no significant results was identified using the Benjamin-Hochberg FDR in LIMMA. We showed the importance of using BACkPAy for the analysis of DNA methylation data with extremely small sample size in gastric cancer. We revealed that RDH13, CLDN11, TMTC1, UCHL1, and FOXP2 can serve as predictive biomarkers for gastric cancer treatment and the promoter methylation level of these five genes in serum could have prognostic and diagnostic functions in gastric cancer patients.

Keywords: BACkPAy; Bayesian model; DNA methylation; LIMMA; gastric cancer.