Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Genetic and Epigenetic Characterization of Colorectal and Endometrial Cancer

Shannon Kuismanen

Doctoral dissertation, June 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Biomedicine, Medical Genetics Department.

Colorectal cancer is one of the three most common cancers today, for both men and women. Approximately 90% of the cases are sporadic while the remaining 10% is hereditary. Among this 10% is hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), an autosomal dominant disease, accounting for up to 13% of these cases. HNPCC is associated with germline mutations in four mismatch repair (MMR) genes, MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, and PMS2, and is characterized by a familial accumulation of endometrial, gastric, urological, and ovarian tumors, in addition to colorectal cancer. An important etiological characteristic of HNPCC is the presence of microsatellite instability (MSI), caused by mutations of the MMR genes. Approximately 15% of sporadic cases share the MSI+ trait.

Colon cancer is believed to be a consequence of an accumulation of mutations in tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes, eventually resulting in tumor development. This phenomena is accelerated in HNPCC due the presence of an inherited mutation in the MMR genes, accounting for one of the two hits proposed to be needed by Knudson (1971) in order for the manifestation of the MSI phenotype. MMR alterations alone, however, do not occur in the majority of sporadic colon cancers, prompting searches for other mechanisms. One such mechanism found to play a role in colon cancer development was DNA methylation, which is known to play a role in MLH1 inactivation.

Our objective was clarification of mechanisms associated with tumor development in both HNPCC and sporadic colorectal cancer in relation to tumorigenic mechanisms. Of particular interest were underlying mechanisms of MSI in sporadic colorectal cancers, with attention to DNA methylation changes and their correlation to MSI. Of additional interest were the genetic and epigenetic events leading to the HNPCC tumor spectrum, chiefly colon and endometrial cancers, in regards to what extent the somatic changes in target tissue explained this phenomenon.

We made a number of important findings pertaining to these questions. First, MSI tumor development differs epigenetically from stable tumor development, possibly underlying developmental pathway differences. Additionally, while epigenetic modification, principally DNA methylation, is a major mechanism in sporadic MSI colorectal cancer MLH1 inactivation it does not play a significant role in HNPCC tumors with germline MLH1 mutations. This is possibly an explanation for tumorigenic pathways and clinicopathological characteristic differences between sporadic and hereditary MSI colorectal cancers. Finally, despite indistinguishable genetic predisposition for endometrial and colorectal cancers, instability profiles highlighting organ-specific differences, may be important HNPCC tumor spectrum determinants.

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Last updated 24.05.2006

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