Introduction: Global DNA hypomethylation is a major event for the development and progression of cancer, although the significance in thyroid cancer remains unclear. Therefore, we aimed to investigate its role in thyroid cancer progression and its potential as a prognostic marker.
Methods: Global hypomethylation of Alu repeats was used as a surrogate marker for DNA global hypomethylation, and was assessed using the Quantification of Unmethylated Alu (QUAlu) technique. Mutational status of BRAF and RAS was determined by Sanger sequencing.
Results: Primary tumors of 90 thyroid cancer patients were included (28 low-risk differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC), 13 pediatric DTC, 33 distant metastatic DTC, 7 poorly differentiated (PDTC) and 9 anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC)), as well as 24 distant metastases, and 20 normal thyroid tissues. An increasing hypomethylation was found for distant metastatic DTC (median 4.0, IQR 3.1-6.2) and PDTC/ATC (median 9.3, IQR 7.0-12.1) as compared to normal thyroid tissue (median 2.75, IQR 2.30-3.15), whereas low-risk and pediatric DTC were not affected by hypomethylation. Global Alu hypomethylation was similar between distant metastases and matched primary tumors. Within distant metastatic DTC, Alu hypomethylation was increased in BRAF versus RAS mutated tumors. Kaplan-Meier and Cox regression analyses showed that thyroid cancer-related and all-cause mortality were associated with tumor hypomethylation, but this association was lost after adjustment for thyroid cancer risk category.
Conclusion: Distant metastatic DTC, PDTC and ATC were increasingly affected by global Alu hypomethylation, which suggests this epigenetic entity may be involved in thyroid cancer progression and dedifferentiation.