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Clin Cancer Res. 2006 Aug 1;12(15):4515-22.

Accumulation of promoter methylation suggests epigenetic progression in squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus.

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  • 1Cancer Biology Program, Department of Oncology, The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA.



Squamous esophageal cancer is common in non-Western countries and has a well-defined progression of preinvasive dysplasia leading to invasive squamous cell carcinoma. We examined the changes in promoter region methylation occurring during neoplastic progression.


The frequency of epigenetic changes in the promoter region of 14 genes epigenetically silenced in other cancers was determined and examined the most frequent changes in dysplastic lesions using methylation-specific PCR. Invasive squamous carcinomas, low to high grade dysplasia, and normal esophagus were then examined for methylation changes in the promoter region of each of the eight most commonly methylated genes.


Methylation was most frequent for CDKN2A/p16INK4a (52%) but was also common for O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase, E-cadherin (CDH1), and retinoic acid receptor beta2. Methylation at individual genes increased in frequency from normal to invasive cancer. Methylation of MLH1 was associated with microsatellite instability in most cases. The number of genes methylated in individual lesions increased as cellular atypia increased. In individual patients, cancers adjacent to dysplasia had the same epigenetic alterations as the less advanced lesions but often had additional methylation of other genes.


These findings suggest that epigenetic progression parallels the histologic changes observed in the progression of squamous carcinoma of the esophagus.

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