Indexed on: 02 Jun '07Published on: 02 Jun '07Published in: Experimental and Molecular Pathology
CST6 is a breast tumor suppressor gene that is expressed in normal breast epithelium, but is epigenetically silenced as a consequence of promoter hypermethylation in metastatic breast cancer cell lines. In the current study, we investigated the expression and methylation status of CST6 in primary breast tumors and lymph node metastases. 25/45 (56%) primary tumors and 17/20 (85%) lymph node metastases expressed significantly lower levels of cystatin M compared to normal breast tissue. Bisulfite sequencing demonstrated CST6 promoter hypermethylation in 11/23 (48%) neoplastic lesions analyzed, including 3/11 (27%) primary tumors and 8/12 (67%) lymph node metastases. In most cases (12/23, 52%), the expression of cystatin M directly reflected CST6 promoter methylation status. In remaining lesions (8/23, 35%) loss of cystatin M was not associated with CST6 promoter hypermethylation, indicating that other mechanisms can account for loss of CST6 expression. These results show that methylation-dependent silencing of CST6 occurs in a subset of primary breast cancers, but more frequently in metastatic lesions, possibly reflecting progression-related genomic events. To examine this possibility, primary breast tumors and matched lymph node metastases were analyzed. In 2/3 (67%) patients, primary tumors were positive for cystatin M and negative for CST6 promoter methylation, and matched metastatic lesions lacked cystatin M expression and CST6 was hypermethylated. This observation suggests that progression-related epigenetic alterations in CST6 gene expression can accompany metastatic spread from a primary tumor site. Overall, the results of the current investigation suggest that methylation-dependent epigenetic silencing of CST6 represents an important mechanism for loss of CST6 during breast tumorigenesis and/or progression to metastasis.