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J Clin Oncol. 2005 Apr 1;23(10):2318-24.

Low microsatellite instability is associated with poor prognosis in stage C colon cancer.

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Cancer Research Program, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, 384 Victoria St, Darlinghurst, Sydney NSW 2010, Australia.



The significance of low microsatellite instability (MSI-L) in colorectal cancer is poorly understood. No clear biologic distinction has been found between MSI-L and microsatellite stable (MSS) colorectal cancer, and these two phenotypes are usually combined when analyzed against the well-defined high MSI (MSI-H) phenotype. Evidence is emerging that an O(6)-methylguanine DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) gene defect is associated with MSI-L. Therefore, to further define this phenotype, we undertook a detailed analysis of the prognostic significance of MSI-L and loss of MGMT expression in colon cancer.


The study cohort was 183 patients with clinicopathologic stage C colon cancer who had not received adjuvant therapy. We analyzed MSI status, MGMT, and mismatch repair protein expression, as well as MGMT and p16 promoter hypermethylation.


We showed that MSI-L defines a group of patients with poorer survival (P = .026) than MSS patients, and that MSI-L was an independent prognostic indicator (P = .005) in stage C colon cancer. Loss of MGMT protein expression was associated with the MSI-L phenotype but was not a prognostic factor for overall survival in colon cancer. p16 methylation was significantly less frequent in MSI-L than in MSI-H and MSS tumors and was not associated with survival.


MSI-L characterizes a distinct subgroup of stage C colon cancer patients, including the MSI-L subset of proximal colon cancer, who have a poorer outcome. Neither the MGMT defect nor p16 methylation are likely to contribute to the worse prognosis of the MSI-L phenotype.

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