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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A cross-sectional study of global DNA methylation and risk of colorectal adenoma

Will D King1*, Janet E Ashbury1, Sherryl A Taylor23, M Yat Tse4, Stephen C Pang4, Jacob A Louw5 and Stephen J Vanner56

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health Sciences, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

2 Department of Medical Genetics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada

3 Molecular Diagnostics, Genetic Laboratory Services, Alberta Health Services, Edmonton, AB, Canada

4 Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

5 Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Hotel Dieu Hospital/Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

6 Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit (GIDRU), Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:488  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-488

Published: 7 July 2014



The methylation of DNA is recognized as a key epigenetic mechanism and evidence for its role in the development of several malignancies is accumulating. We evaluated the relationship between global methylation in DNA derived from normal appearing colon mucosal tissue and blood leukocytes, and colorectal adenoma risk.


Patients, aged 40 to 65, scheduled for a screening colonoscopy were recruited. During the colonoscopy, two pinch biopsies of healthy, normal appearing mucosa were obtained from the descending colon. A fasting blood sample was also collected. The methylation status of LINE-1 (long interspersed nuclear element-1) repetitive sequences, as a surrogate measure of global methylation, was quantified in DNA extracted from normal colon mucosa and blood leukocytes. Statistical analysis of the relationship between global DNA methylation and adenoma risk was conducted on 317 participants, 108 subjects with at least one pathologically confirmed adenoma and 209 subjects with a normal colonoscopy.


A statistically significant inverse relationship was observed between LINE-1 methylation in colon tissue DNA and adenoma risk for males and for both sexes combined for the lowest methylation quartile compared to the highest (adjusted ORs = 2.94 and 2.26 respectively). For blood, although the overall pattern of odds ratio estimates was towards an increase in risk for lower methylation quartiles compared to the highest methylation quartile, there were no statistically significant relationships observed. A moderate correlation was found between LINE-1 methylation levels measured in tissue and blood (Pearson correlation 0.36).


We observed that lower levels of LINE-1 DNA methylation in normal appearing background colon mucosa were associated with increased adenoma risk for males, and for both sexes combined. Though these findings provide some support for a relationship between LINE-1 DNA methylation in colon mucosal tissue and adenoma risk, large prospective cohort studies are needed to confirm results. Until such investigations are done, the clinical usefulness of LINE-1 methylation as a biomarker of increased adenoma risk is uncertain. Regardless, this study contributes to a better understanding of the role of global DNA methylation as an early event in CR carcinogenesis with implications for future etiologic research.

Global DNA methylation; Colorectal adenoma; Colorectal cancer; LINE-1 DNA methylation