DNA methylation is widely observed in many cancers. Concurrent DNA methylation of multiple genes occurs in endometrial cancer and is referred to as the CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP). However, the features and causes of CIMP-positive endometrial cancer are not well understood. To investigate DNA methylation features characteristic to CIMP-positive endometrial cancer, we first classified samples from 25 patients with endometrial cancer based on the methylation status of three genes, i.e. MLH1, CDH1 (E-cadherin) and APC: CIMP-high (CIMP-H, 2/25, 8.0%), CIMP-low (CIMP-L, 7/25, 28.0%) and CIMP-negative (CIMP(-), 16/25, 64.0%). We then selected two samples each from CIMP-H and CIMP(-) classes, and analyzed DNA methylation status of both normal (peripheral blood cells: PBCs) and cancer tissues by genome-wide, targeted bisulfite sequencing. Genomes of the CIMP-H cancer tissues were significantly hypermethylated compared to those of the CIMP(-). Surprisingly, in normal tissues of the CIMP-H patients, promoter region of the miR-663a locus is hypermethylated relative to CIMP(-) samples. Consistent with this finding, miR- 663a expression was lower in the CIMP-H PBCs than in the CIMP(-) PBCs. The same region of the miR663a locus is found to be highly methylated in cancer tissues of both CIMP-H and CIMP(-) cases. This is the first report showing that aberrant DNA methylation of the miR-663a promoter can occur in normal tissue of the cancer patients, suggesting a possible link between this epigenetic abnormality and endometrial cancer. This raises the possibility that the hypermethylation of the miR-663a promoter represents an epimutation associated with the CIMP-H endometrial cancers. Based on these findings, relationship of the aberrant DNA methylation and CIMP-H phenotype is discussed.
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