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J Invest Dermatol. 2006 Feb;126(2):422-31.

Epigenetic inactivation of tumor suppressor genes in serum of patients with cutaneous melanoma.

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Department of Dermatology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany.


Small amounts of cell-free DNA circulate in both healthy and diseased human blood, while increased concentrations of DNA are present in the serum of cancer patients. Tumor-specific mutations or epigenetic modifications have predominantly been detected in tissue specimens. The purpose of this study was to investigate methylation of five different genes involved in tumor suppression and DNA repair (suppressors of cytokine signaling 1 and 2 (SOCS1, SOCS2)), Ras-association domain family protein 1A (RASSF1a), D-type p16(INK4a) cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor (CDKN), and O6-methylguanine DNA-methyltransferase (MGMT)) in the serum of 100 patients using methylation-specific PCR. In all, 41 melanoma patients (stage I = 18; stage II = 10; stage III/IV = 13), 13 healthy controls without nevi, and 10 individuals with more than 15 nevi of >5 mm in size were investigated. For comparison, sera from patients with other skin tumors (nine basal cell cancers, five Kaposi's sarcoma), different metastasized cancers (five breast cancers, five colon cancers), and several chronic inflammatory diseases (n = 12) were also analyzed. In addition, we examined if methylation was involved in silencing transcription of these genes in 12 melanoma specimens. SOCS1, SOCS2, RASSF1a, CDKN2a, and MGMT were methylated in 75, 43, 64, 75, and 64% of melanoma samples, respectively. Of the 41 melanoma patients, 83% had one hypermethylated gene, while 66, 51, and 41% had two, three, or four hypermethylated genes, respectively. Also, 20% of these patients showed hypermethylation for all genes, while only 17% showed no methylation. Importantly, the methylation profile of the selected genes from melanoma patients was distinct from the other analyzed tumors. Transcription of SOCS1, SOCS2, CDKN2a, and RASSF1a genes was significantly reduced in fresh melanoma samples, while MGMT showed a 12-fold upregulation at the messenger ribonucleic acid level (P < 0.001). Our findings suggest that epigenetic silencing of the studied tumor suppressor genes is a common and probably important mechanism for melanoma formation. This convenient method using a simple blood sample may contribute to classification of melanoma and awaits clinical validation.

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