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Clinical epigenetics

In epithelial cancers, aberrant COL17A1 promoter methylation predicts its misexpression and increased invasion.


PMID 27891193

Abstract

Metastasis is a leading cause of death among cancer patients. In the tumor microenvironment, altered levels of extracellular matrix proteins, such as collagens, can facilitate the first steps of cancer cell metastasis, including invasion into surrounding tissue and intravasation into the blood stream. However, the degree of misexpression of collagen genes in tumors remains understudied, even though this knowledge could greatly facilitate the development of cancer treatment options aimed at preventing metastasis. We systematically evaluate the expression of all 44 collagen genes in breast cancer and assess whether their misexpression provides clinical prognostic significance. We use immunohistochemistry on 150 ductal breast cancers and 361 cervical cancers and study DNA methylation in various epithelial cancers. In breast cancer, various tests show that COL4A1 and COL4A2 overexpression and COL17A1 (BP180, BPAG2) underexpression provide independent prognostic strength (HR = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.17-1.34, p = 3.03 × 10-10; HR = 1.18, 95% CI = 1.11-1.25, p = 8.11 × 10-10; HR = 0.86, 95% CI = 0.81-0.92, p = 4.57 × 10-6; respectively). Immunohistochemistry on ductal breast cancers confirmed that the COL17A1 protein product, collagen XVII, is underexpressed. This strongly correlates with advanced stage, increased invasion, and postmenopausal status. In contrast, immunohistochemistry on cervical tumors showed that collagen XVII is overexpressed in cervical cancer and this is associated with increased local dissemination. Interestingly, consistent with the opposed direction of misexpression in these cancers, the COL17A1 promoter is hypermethylated in breast cancer and hypomethylated in cervical cancer. We also find that the COL17A1 promoter is hypomethylated in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, lung squamous cell carcinoma, and lung adenocarcinoma, in all of which collagen XVII overexpression has previously been shown. Paradoxically, collagen XVII is underexpressed in breast cancer and overexpressed in cervical and other epithelial cancers. However, the COL17A1 promoter methylation status accurately predicts both the direction of misexpression and the increased invasive nature for five out of five epithelial cancers. This implies that aberrant epigenetic control is a key driver of COL17A1 gene misexpression and tumor cell invasion. These findings have significant clinical implications, suggesting that the COL17A1 promoter methylation status can be used to predict patient outcome. Moreover, epigenetic targeting of COL17A1 could represent a novel strategy to prevent metastasis in patients.