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Diagn Mol Pathol. 2003 Mar;12(1):50-6.

Promoter hypermethylation and inactivation of hMLH1, a DNA mismatch repair gene, in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Central Arkansas Veteran' s Healthcare System, Little Rock 72205-5484, USA.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a multistage process during which adverse genetic alterations accumulate resulting in loss of cell cycle control, selective cell overgrowth, and ultimately formation of malignancy. Among various genetic alterations in HNSCC is increased microsatellite instability (MSI). hMLH1 is one of the major mismatch DNA repair genes, the inactivation of which caused increased MSI in a variety of human cancers including HNSCC. While somatic mutation is a major mechanism of the hMLH1 gene inactivation in hereditary form of human cancer, promoter hypermethylation appears to be primarily involved in the inactivation of the hMLH1 gene in sporadic form of human cancers. In the current study, we analyzed 78 cases of HNSCC for hMLH1 protein expression and promoter hypermethylation by IHC and methylation-specific PCR (MSP). Twenty-four of 78 cases (31%) of HNSCC contained markedly reduced levels of the hMLH1 protein. Based on the IHC results, 8 cases without and 8 with hMLH1 protein expression (total of 16) were further analyzed by MSP. Seven of 8 cases (88%) that were negative for the hMLH1 protein displayed promoter hypermethylation, whereas 7 of 7 cases (100%) strongly positive for the protein were free of promoter methylation. This study confirms our previous conclusion that promoter hypermethylation represents a major mechanism of the hMLH1 gene inactivation in HNSCC.

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