An improved sequencing-based strategy to estimate locus-specific DNA methylation

Giulia Brisotto, Alessandra di Gennaro, Valentina Damiano, Michela Armellin, Tiziana Perin, Roberta Maestro, Manuela Santarosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: DNA methylation is an important epigenetic mechanism of transcriptional control that plays an essential role in several cellular functions. Aberrant DNA methylation in cancer has been frequently associated with downregulation of microRNAs and protein coding genes, such as miR-200c/miR-141 cluster and E-cadherin. Current strategies to assess DNA methylation, including bisulfite treatment-based assays, tend to be time-consuming and may be quite expensive when a precise appraisal is required. The Sanger-sequencing of the amplified bisulfite-treated DNA (BSP) might represent a practical option to measure DNA methylation at single CpG resolution. However, this strategy often produces noisy data, which affects accurate quantification. Here we propose an improved, reliable and cost-effective BSP-based protocol that allows proper DNA methylation assessment. Methods: Our strategy, named normalized-BSP (NBSP), takes advantage of tailed C-balanced primers and a normalization procedure based on C/T ratio to overcome BSP-associated noise problems and nucleotide signal unbalance. NBSP was applied to estimate miR-200c/miR-141 locus methylation in serial dilution experiments and was compared to conventional methods. Besides, it was applied in the analysis of FFPE breast cancer samples and further validated in the context of the E-cadherin promoter. Results: NBSP strategy outperformed conventional BSP in the estimate of the fraction of methylated cytosine in serial dilution experiments, providing data in agreement with the widely used but cumbersome cloning-based protocol. This held true for both miR-200c/miR-141 locus and E-cadherin promoter analyses. Moreover, the miR-200c/miR-141 locus methylation reflected the decrease in miRNA expression both in breast cancer cell lines and in the FFPE samples. Conclusions: NBSP is a rapid and economical method to estimate the extent of methylation at each CpG of a given locus. Notably, NBSP works efficiently on FFPE samples, thus disclosing the perspective of its application also in the diagnostic setting.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Cancer
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Sep 21 2015


  • Bisulfite treatment
  • Cancer
  • CDH1
  • DNA-methylation
  • E-cadherin
  • Method
  • miR-200c/miR-141 locus
  • Promoter
  • Sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research
  • Genetics


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