Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Discovery of DNA methylation markers in cervical cancer using relaxation ranking

Maté Ongenaert1, G Bea A Wisman2*, Haukeline H Volders2, Alice J Koning2, Ate GJ van der Zee2, Wim van Criekinge13* and Ed Schuuring4

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory for Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics (BioBix), Department of Molecular Biotechnology, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Belgium

2 Department of Gynaecologic Oncology, University Medical Centre Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

3 Oncomethylome Sciences SA, Sart-Tilman (Liege), Belgium

4 Department of Pathology, University Medical Centre Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

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BMC Medical Genomics 2008, 1:57  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-1-57

Published: 24 November 2008

Abstract

Background

To discover cancer specific DNA methylation markers, large-scale screening methods are widely used. The pharmacological unmasking expression microarray approach is an elegant method to enrich for genes that are silenced and re-expressed during functional reversal of DNA methylation upon treatment with demethylation agents. However, such experiments are performed in in vitro (cancer) cell lines, mostly with poor relevance when extrapolating to primary cancers. To overcome this problem, we incorporated data from primary cancer samples in the experimental design. A strategy to combine and rank data from these different data sources is essential to minimize the experimental work in the validation steps.

Aim

To apply a new relaxation ranking algorithm to enrich DNA methylation markers in cervical cancer.

Results

The application of a new sorting methodology allowed us to sort high-throughput microarray data from both cervical cancer cell lines and primary cervical cancer samples. The performance of the sorting was analyzed in silico. Pathway and gene ontology analysis was performed on the top-selection and gives a strong indication that the ranking methodology is able to enrich towards genes that might be methylated. Terms like regulation of progression through cell cycle, positive regulation of programmed cell death as well as organ development and embryonic development are overrepresented. Combined with the highly enriched number of imprinted and X-chromosome located genes, and increased prevalence of known methylation markers selected from cervical (the highest-ranking known gene is CCNA1) as well as from other cancer types, the use of the ranking algorithm seems to be powerful in enriching towards methylated genes.

Verification of the DNA methylation state of the 10 highest-ranking genes revealed that 7/9 (78%) gene promoters showed DNA methylation in cervical carcinomas. Of these 7 genes, 3 (SST, HTRA3 and NPTX1) are not methylated in normal cervix tissue.

Conclusion

The application of this new relaxation ranking methodology allowed us to significantly enrich towards methylation genes in cancer. This enrichment is both shown in silico and by experimental validation, and revealed novel methylation markers as proof-of-concept that might be useful in early cancer detection in cervical scrapings.