Journal Article
. 2019 Nov; 11(1):155.
doi: 10.1186/s13148-019-0750-x.

Region-specific glucocorticoid receptor promoter methylation has both positive and negative prognostic value in patients with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer

Hilary Snider 1 Brithica Villavarajan 1 Yingwei Peng 2 Lois E Shepherd 3 Andrew C Robinson 4 Christopher R Mueller 5 
  • PMID: 31675993
  •     50 References
  •     3 citations


Background: The glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1, GR) is frequently downregulated in breast tumors, and evidence suggests it acts as a tumor suppressor in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer. We previously found that methylation of the GR promoter CpG island represses gene expression and occurs in ER+ breast tumors. In this study, the prognostic and predictive value of GR methylation was examined in ER+ patients from the CCTG MA.12 clinical trial of tamoxifen versus placebo in women with early breast cancer.

Methods: We developed a targeted multiplex bisulfite next-generation sequencing assay to detect methylation at multiple GR promoter regions in DNA from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) samples. Following validation in a small cohort of breast tumors, ER+ FFPE tumor samples from MA.12 (n = 208) were tested. Survival analyses evaluated the impact of GR promoter methylation on patient overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS).

Results: An analysis of TCGA data found that GR methylation is prevalent in ER+ tumors and is associated with decreased gene expression and analysis of public microarray data (KM Plotter) linked decreased GR expression to a poor outcome. In MA.12, two GR promoter regions (U and C) each had prognostic value, but with opposite effects on the outcome. U methylation was associated with poor OS (HR = 1.79, P = 0.041) whereas C methylation was associated with better OS (HR = 0.40, P = 0.040) and DFS (HR = 0.49, P = 0.037). The classification of patients based on the methylation status of the two regions was prognostic for OS (P = 0.006) and DFS (P = 0.041) and revealed a group of patients (U methylated, C unmethylated) with very poor outcomes. Placebo-treated patients in this high-risk group had worse OS (HR = 2.86, P = 0.002) and DFS (HR = 2.09, P = 0.014) compared to the rest of the cohort.

Conclusion: Region-specific GR promoter methylation was an independent prognostic marker for patient survival and identified a subset of patients with poor prognosis, particularly without tamoxifen treatment. These findings provide a foundation for future studies into GR methylation as a promising prognostic biomarker in ER+ breast cancer.

Keywords: Bisulfite sequencing; Breast cancer; DNA methylation; Glucocorticoid receptor; Prognosis.

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