Gene promoter hypermethylation in tumors and serum of head and neck cancer patients
Promoter hypermethylation is an important pathway for repression of gene transcription in cancer cells. We analyzed aberrant DNA methylation at four genes in primary tumors from 95 head and neck cancer patients and then used the presence of this methylation as a marker for cancer cell detection in serum DNA. These four genes were tested by methylation-specific PCR and included: p16 (CDKN2A), O6-methylguanine-DNA-methyltransferase, glutathione S-transferase P1, and death-associated protein
... iated protein kinase (DAP-kinase). Fifty-five % (52 of 95) of the primary tumors displayed promoter hypermethylation in at least one of the genes studied: 27% (26/95) at p16, 33% (31 of 95) at O6-methylguanine-DNA-methyltransferase; and 18% (17 of 92) at DAP-kinase. No promoter hypermethylation was observed at the glutathione S-transferase P1 gene promoter. We detected a statistically significant correlation between the presence of DAP-kinase gene promoter hypermethylation and lymph node involvement (P = 0.014) and advanced disease stage (P = 0.016). In 50 patients with paired serum available for epigenetic analysis, the same methylation pattern was detected in the corresponding serum DNA of 21 (42%) cases. Among the patients with methylated serum DNA, 5 developed distant metastasis compared with the occurrence of metastasis in only 1 patient negative for serum promoter hypermethylation (P = 0.056). Promoter hypermethylation of key genes in critical pathways is common in head and neck cancer and represents a promising serum marker for monitoring affected patients.