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Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2010 Mar;29(1):181-206. doi: 10.1007/s10555-010-9207-6.

DNA methylation markers in colorectal cancer.

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  • 1Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1550 Orleans Street, CRB II-5M, Baltimore, MD, 21231, USA.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) arises as a consequence of the accumulation of genetic and epigenetic alterations in colonic epithelial cells during neoplastic transformation. Epigenetic modifications, particularly DNA methylation in selected gene promoters, are recognized as common molecular alterations in human tumors. Substantial efforts have been made to determine the cause and role of aberrant DNA methylation ("epigenomic instability") in colon carcinogenesis. In the colon, aberrant DNA methylation arises in tumor-adjacent, normal-appearing mucosa. Aberrant methylation also contributes to later stages of colon carcinogenesis through simultaneous methylation in key specific genes that alter specific oncogenic pathways. Hypermethylation of several gene clusters has been termed CpG island methylator phenotype and appears to define a subgroup of colon cancer distinctly characterized by pathological, clinical, and molecular features. DNA methylation of multiple promoters may serve as a biomarker for early detection in stool and blood DNA and as a tool for monitoring patients with CRC. DNA methylation patterns may also be predictors of metastatic or aggressive CRC. Therefore, the aim of this review is to understand DNA methylation as a driving force in colorectal neoplasia and its emerging value as a molecular marker in the clinic.

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