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J Clin Invest. 2017 Aug 1;127(8):3090-3102. doi: 10.1172/JCI91095. Epub 2017 Jul 17.

DNA methylation-based immune response signature improves patient diagnosis in multiple cancers.

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Laboratory of Cancer Epigenetics, Faculty of Medicine, ULB-Cancer Research Center (U-CRC), Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Brussels, Belgium.
Interuniversity Institute of Bioinformatics in Brussels, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.
Machine Learning Group, Computer Science Department.
Breast Cancer Translational Research Laboratory, Jules Bordet Institute, and.
Molecular Immunology Unit, Jules Bordet Institute, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium.
Laboratory of Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics, Department of Mathematical Modeling, Statistics and Bioinformatics, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.



The tumor immune response is increasingly associated with better clinical outcomes in breast and other cancers. However, the evaluation of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) relies on histopathological measurements with limited accuracy and reproducibility. Here, we profiled DNA methylation markers to identify a methylation of TIL (MeTIL) signature that recapitulates TIL evaluations and their prognostic value for long-term outcomes in breast cancer (BC).


MeTIL signature scores were correlated with clinical endpoints reflecting overall or disease-free survival and a pathologic complete response to preoperative anthracycline therapy in 3 BC cohorts from the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels and in other cancer types from The Cancer Genome Atlas.


The MeTIL signature measured TIL distributions in a sensitive manner and predicted survival and response to chemotherapy in BC better than did histopathological assessment of TILs or gene expression-based immune markers, respectively. The MeTIL signature also improved the prediction of survival in other malignancies, including melanoma and lung cancer. Furthermore, the MeTIL signature predicted differences in survival for malignancies in which TILs were not known to have a prognostic value. Finally, we showed that MeTIL markers can be determined by bisulfite pyrosequencing of small amounts of DNA from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tumor tissue, supporting clinical applications for this methodology.


This study highlights the power of DNA methylation to evaluate tumor immune responses and the potential of this approach to improve the diagnosis and treatment of breast and other cancers.


This work was funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) and Télévie, the INNOVIRIS Brussels Region BRUBREAST Project, the IUAP P7/03 program, the Belgian "Foundation against Cancer," the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), and the Fonds Gaston Ithier.

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