Methylation profiling of normal individuals reveals mosaic: Promoter methylation of cancer-associated genes Academic Article uri icon


  • Epigenetic silencing by promoter methylation of genes associated with cancer initiation and progression is a hallmark of tumour cells. As a consequence, testing for DNA methylation biomarkers in plasma or other body fluids shows great promise for detection of malignancies at early stages and/or for monitoring response to treatment. However, DNA from normal leukocytes may contribute to the DNA in plasma and will affect biomarker specificity if there is any methylation in the leukocytes. DNA from 48 samples of normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells was evaluated for the presence of methylation of a panel of DNA methylation biomarkers that have been implicated in cancer. SMART-MSP, a methylation specific PCR (MSP) methodology based on real time PCR amplification, high-resolution melting and strategic primer design, enabled quantitative detection of low levels of methylated DNA. Methylation was observed in all tested mononuclear cell DNA samples for the CDH1 and HIC1 promoters and in majority of DNA samples for the TWIST1 and DAPK1 promoters. APC and RARB promoter methylation, at a lower average level, was also detected in a substantial proportion of DNA samples. We found no BRCA1, CDKN2A, GSTP1 and RASSF1A promoter methylation in this sample set. Several individuals had higher levels of methylation at several loci suggestive of a methylator phenotype. In conclusion, methylation of many potential DNA methylation biomarkers can be detected in normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and is likely to affect their specificity for detecting low level disease. However, we found no evidence of promoter methylation for other genes indicating that panels of analytically sensitive and specific methylation biomarkers in body fluids can be obtained.

publication date

  • 2012