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Int J Cancer. 2003 Oct 10;106(6):913-8.

Aberrant p16 promoter methylation in smokers and former smokers with nonsmall cell lung cancer.

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  • 1Department of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland.


Hypermethylation of cytosines in CpG-rich islands of the promoter regions of regulatory genes has been discovered as a common mechanism of gene silencing during carcinogenesis. We analysed 64 primary lung carcinomas for promoter methylation of the tumour suppressor genes (TSGs) p16 (p16(INK4a)/CDKN2A) and p14 (p14(ARF)) by methylation-specific PCR, in order to evaluate aberrant methylation as a potential biomarker for epigenetic alterations in tobacco-related lung cancer. Methylation of p16 was observed in 34% (22/64) of the lung tumours examined. In particular, p16 methylation occurred in nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) only, with 41 % (22/54) of the tumours being positive. The highest frequency was found in large cell carcinoma (5/7, 71%), followed by adenocarcinoma (9/25, 36%) and squamous cell carcinoma (7/21, 33%). Methylation of the p14 gene was less frequent in lung cancer (4/52, 8%). When association with tobacco smoking was analysed, 42% (21/50) of NSCLC from ever smokers exhibited p16 methylation. Interestingly, the analysis revealed a significantly higher risk of p16 methylation in former smokers as compared to current smokers [odds ratio (OR) 5.1; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.3-22]. The difference was retained after adjustment for age (OR 3.7; 95% CI 0.9-17). The promoter methylation results were then combined with data on genetic alterations determined previously in the same set of tumours. This data similarly showed that p16 methylation in parallel with p53 gene mutation or p14 methylation occurred more frequently in former smokers than in current smokers (44% vs. 14%; P = 0.035). Taken together, our data suggest that analysis of promoter methylation in TSGs may provide a valuable biomarker for identification of groups with an elevated risk of cancer, such as smokers and ex-smokers.

Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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