Aberrant promoter methylation of several known or putative tumor suppressor genes occurs frequently during carcinogenesis, and this epigenetic change has been considered as a potential molecular marker for cancer. We examined the methylation status of nine genes (APC, CDH1, CTNNB1, TIMP3, ESR1, GSTP1, MGMT, THBS1, and TMS1), by quantitative methylation specific PCR. Synchronous preinvasive lesions (atypical ductal hyperplasia and/or ductal carcinoma in situ) and invasive ductal breast carcinoma from 52 patients, together with pure lesions from 24 patients and 12 normal tissues paired to tumor and 20 normal breast distant from tumor were analyzed. Aberrant promoter methylation was detected in both preinvasive and invasive lesions for genes APC, CDH1, CTNNB1, TIMP3, ESR1, and GSTP1. However, hierarchical mixed model and Generalized Estimating Equations model analyses showed that only APC, CDH1, and CTNNB1 promoter regions showed a higher frequency and methylation levels in pathologic samples when compared with normal breast. Whereas APC and CTNNB1 did not show differences in methylation levels or frequencies, CDH1 showed higher methylation levels in invasive tumors as compared with preinvasive lesions (P <0.04, Mann-Whitney test with permutation correction). The analysis of APC, CDH1, and CTNNB1 methylation status was able to distinguish between normal and pathologic samples with a sensitivity of 67% (95% confidence interval, 60-71%) and a specificity of 75% (95% confidence interval, 69-81%). Our data point to the direct involvement of APC, CDH1, and CTNNB1 promoter methylation in the early stages of breast cancer progression and suggest that they may represent a useful tool for the detection of tumor cells in clinical specimens.
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