Recent studies have demonstrated the presence of microsatellite instability (MSI) in tumors from patients with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer and in a large number of sporadic tumors. To further characterize the type of alterations at these loci and their frequency of involvement in colon cancer, we studied DNA extracted from paraffin-embedded tissue from 508 patients using 11 microsatellites localized to chromosomes 5, 8, 15, 17, and 18. Overall, MSI at each locus varied in character and frequency and was observed with at least one marker in 191 cases (37.6%). Based on the number of markers displaying instability per tumor, three groups of patients were defined: those with <30% of the markers showing instability (MSI-L, n = 109, 21.5%); those with >-30% (MSI-H, n = 82, 16.1%); and those showing no instability (MSS, n = 317, 62.4%). These groups were tested for correlations with a number of clinical and pathological parameters, including age, sex, stage, ploidy status, and site of tumor. Comparing across the three groups and verified by pair-wise comparisons, the MSI-H group was associated with tumor site (proximal colon, P = 0.001), sex (females, P = 0.005), stage (Dukes' B, P = 0.01), and ploidy status (diploid, P = 0.03). No significant differences were noted between the MSI-L and MSS group for any of the parameters tested. An additional 188 consecutive surgical colorectal cancer cases were examined for the presence of MSI and for the immunohistochemical expression of hMLH1 and hMSH2 proteins. Of this group, 129 (68.6%) were classified as MSS, 17 (9.0%) as MSI-L, and 42 (22.3%) as MSI-H. None of the MSS and none of the MSI-L tumors had altered expression of either hMLH1 or hMSH2. However, the majority of MSI-H (40 of 42, 95%) cases demonstrated absence of staining for these proteins. The most frequently altered protein was hMLH1, occurring in 95% of the tumors with altered expression. Cumulatively, these data suggest that the tumor phenotype MSI-H is distinct from tumor phenotypes MSI-L and MSS, with no apparent differences between MSI-L and MSS. Furthermore, altered hMLH1 protein expression appears to be responsible for the mutator phenotype in the vast majority of MSI-H tumors.


Supported by NIH Grants CA 60117 and CA 68535.

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