Background: The CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) is a major molecular pathway in colorectal cancer. Approximately 25% to 60% of CIMP tumors are microsatellite unstable (MSI-H) due to DNA hypermethylation of the MLH1 gene promoter. Our aim was to determine if the distributions of clinicopathologic factors in CIMP-positive tumors with MLH1 DNA methylation differed from those in CIMP-positive tumors without DNA methylation of MLH1. Methods: We assessed the associations between age, sex, tumor-site, MSI status BRAF and KRAS mutations, and family colorectal cancer history with MLH1 methylation status in a large population-based sample of CIMP-positive colorectal cancers defined by a 5-marker panel using unconditional logistic regression to assess the odds of MLH1 methylation by study variables. Results: Subjects with CIMP-positive tumors without MLH1 methylation were significantly younger, more likely to be male, and more likely to have distal colon or rectal primaries and the MSI-L phenotype. CIMP-positive MLH1-unmethylated tumors were significantly less likely than CIMP-positive MLH1-methylated tumors to harbor a BRAF V600E mutation and significantly more likely to harbor a KRAS mutation. MLH1 methylation was associated with significantly better overall survival (HR, 0.50; 95% confidence interval, 0.31-0.82). Conclusions: These data suggest that MLH1 methylation in CIMP-positive tumors is not a completely random event and implies that there are environmental or genetic determinants that modify the probability that MLH1 will become methylated during CIMP pathogenesis. Impact: MLH1 DNA methylation status should be taken into account in etiologic studies.
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