Germ-line mutations of the LKB1 gene cause Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS) characterized by mucocutaneous pigmentation, predisposition to benign hamartomas of the gastrointestinal tract and also to several types of tumors. However, somatic mutations of this gene are very rare. To examine inactivation of LKB1 by epigenetic mechanisms, we investigated a series of primary tumors and cancer cell lines, for hypermethylation affecting the CpG island located in the 5′ region of the LKB1 gene using Methylation-specific PCR (MSP). First, we screened 51 cancer cell lines. Only three colorectal and one cervical carcinoma cell lines were methylated at LKB1, and loss of the LKB1 transcript was demonstrated. Treatment with the demethylating agent 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine restored LKB1 expression. To address the incidence of LKB1 epigenetic inactivation in primary tumors, we analysed colorectal, breast, gastric, pancreatic, thyroid, bladder and testicular carcinomas (n=195). Normal tissues from the mentioned organs were unmethylated in this region. Among the described tumors, only one colorectal carcinoma and three testicular tumors displayed LKB1 promoter hypermethylation. Further study of those histological types more commonly associated with PJS, demonstrated that LKB1 promoter hypermethylation was present in five of 11 (45%) papillary breast carcinomas. Finally, in three patients with a strong family story suggestive of PJS disease, abnormal LKB1 methylation was found in four of 22 (18%) hamartomatous polyps lesions. Our findings provide an alternative pathway for inactivation of the LKB1 tumor suppressor gene involving promoter hypermethylation.
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