Colorectal adenoma and cancer detection based on altered methylation pattern of SFRP1, SFRP2, SDC2, and PRIMA1 in plasma samples

Aberrant methylation is one of the most frequent epigenetic alterations that can contribute to tumor formation. Cell-free DNA can originate from tumor tissue; therefore, the evaluation of methylation markers in cell-free DNA can be a promising method for cancer screening. Our aim was to develop a panel of biomarkers with altered methylation along the colorectal adenoma-carcinoma sequence in both colonic tissue and plasma. Methylation of selected CpG sites in healthy colonic (n = 15), adenoma (n = 15), and colorectal cancer (n = 15) tissues was analyzed by pyrosequencing. MethyLight PCR was applied to study the DNA methylation of SFRP1, SFRP2, SDC2, and PRIMA1 gene promoters in 121 plasma and 32 biopsy samples. The effect of altered promoter methylation on protein expression was examined by immunohistochemistry. Significantly higher (P < 0.05) DNA methylation levels were detected in the promoter regions of all 4 markers, both in CRC and adenoma tissues compared with healthy controls. Methylation of SFRP1, SFRP2, SDC2, and PRIMA1 promoter sequences was observed in 85.1%, 72.3%, 89.4%, and 80.9% of plasma samples from patients with CRC and 89.2%, 83.8%, 81.1% and 70.3% from adenoma patients, respectively. When applied as a panel, CRC patients could be distinguished from controls with 91.5% sensitivity and 97.3% specificity [area under the curve (AUC) = 0.978], while adenoma samples could be differentiated with 89.2% sensitivity and 86.5% specificity (AUC = 0.937). Immunohistochemical analysis indicated decreasing protein levels of all 4 markers along the colorectal adenoma-carcinoma sequence. Our findings suggest that this methylation biomarker panel allows non-invasive detection of colorectal adenoma and cancer from plasma samples.