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PLoS One. 2010 Mar 17;5(3):e9749. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009749.

Hepatocellular carcinoma displays distinct DNA methylation signatures with potential as clinical predictors.

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Epigenetics Group, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France.



Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is characterized by late detection and fast progression, and it is believed that epigenetic disruption may be the cause of its molecular and clinicopathological heterogeneity. A better understanding of the global deregulation of methylation states and how they correlate with disease progression will aid in the design of strategies for earlier detection and better therapeutic decisions.


We characterized the changes in promoter methylation in a series of 30 HCC tumors and their respective surrounding tissue and identified methylation signatures associated with major risk factors and clinical correlates. A wide panel of cancer-related gene promoters was analyzed using Illumina bead array technology, and CpG sites were then selected according to their ability to classify clinicopathological parameters. An independent series of HCC tumors and matched surrounding tissue was used for validation of the signatures. We were able to develop and validate a signature of methylation in HCC. This signature distinguished HCC from surrounding tissue and from other tumor types, and was independent of risk factors. However, aberrant methylation of an independent subset of promoters was associated with tumor progression and etiological risk factors (HBV or HCV infection and alcohol consumption). Interestingly, distinct methylation of an independent panel of gene promoters was strongly correlated with survival after cancer therapy.


Our study shows that HCC tumors exhibit specific DNA methylation signatures associated with major risk factors and tumor progression stage, with potential clinical applications in diagnosis and prognosis.

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