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Mol Med. 2011;17(7-8):726-35. doi: 10.2119/molmed.2010.00239. Epub 2011 Feb 9.

Altered methylation at microRNA-associated CpG islands in hereditary and sporadic carcinomas: a methylation-specific multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MS-MLPA)-based approach.

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Department of Medical Genetics, Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that contribute to tumorigenesis by acting as oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes and may be important in the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of cancer. Many miRNA genes have associated CpG islands, suggesting epigenetic regulation of their expression. Compared with sporadic cancers, the role of miRNAs in hereditary or familial cancer is poorly understood. We investigated 96 colorectal carcinomas, 58 gastric carcinomas and 41 endometrial carcinomas, occurring as part of inherited DNA mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency (Lynch syndrome), familial colorectal carcinoma without MMR gene mutations or sporadically. Methylation-specific multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MS-MLPA) assays were developed for 11 miRNA loci that were chosen because all could be epigenetically regulated through the associated CpG islands and some could additionally modulate the epigenome by putatively targeting the DNA methyltransferases or their antagonist retinoblastoma-like 2 (RBL2). Compared with the respective normal tissues, the predominant alteration in tumor tissues was increased methylation for the miRNAs 1-1, 124a-1, 124a-2, 124a-3, 148a, 152 and 18b; decreased methylation for 200a and 208a; and no major change for 373 and let-7a-3. The frequencies with which the individual miRNA loci were affected in tumors showed statistically significant differences relative to the tissue of origin (colorectal versus gastric versus endometrial), MMR proficiency versus deficiency and sporadic versus hereditary disease. In particular, hypermethylation at miR-148a and miR-152 was associated with microsatellite-unstable (as opposed to stable) tumors and hypermethylation at miR-18b with sporadic disease (as opposed to Lynch syndrome). Hypermethylation at miRNA loci correlated with hypermethylation at classic tumor suppressor promoters in the same tumors. Our results highlight the importance of epigenetic events in hereditary and sporadic cancers and suggest that MS-MLPA is an excellent choice for quantitative analysis of methylation in archival formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded samples, which pose challenges to many other techniques commonly used for methylation studies.

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