Identification of tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) silenced by CpG methylation uncovers the molecular mechanism of tumorigenesis and potential tumor biomarkers.

GULP1, a molecule not previously related to cancer, is a cytoplasmic adaptor protein with a phosphotyrosine binding domain that plays a role in one of two partially redundant pathways that lead to the engulfment and clearance of apoptotic cells, according to several genetic studies performed in Caenorhabditis elegans.

Performing a pharmacologic unmasking technique we observed that this molecule is downregulated in ovarian tumor tissues when compared to normal ovary. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death among gynaecological cancers worldwide, this due to the fact that women are diagnosed with advanced stage disease and because of the lack of truly sensitive/specific screening techniques and unavailability of individualized therapy.

We performed an expression microarray on 15 ovarian tumor samples, 10 ovarian normal surface epithelium, 3 ovarian cancer cell lines and 3 normal cell lines. All cells have been treated with a demethylating agent which comprehensively uncovers genes silenced by promoter hypermethylation. The selection of the best candidates was based upon the differential expression between normal and tumor samples (or cell lines), them being downregulated in cancer when compared to normal, and finally the re-activation after the treatment with the demethylating agent.

One of these promising genes was GULP1, which expression pattern was then assessed by Reverse Transcriptase PCR and Western Blot and compared to its methylation status in the same six ovarian cell lines and showed correlation between absence of expression and presence of methylation (or the opposite situation).

We developed quantitative fluorogenic methylation specific PCR (QMSP) for GULP1 and profiled 437 ovarian tumor samples, 17 borderline tumors, 19 cystadenoma samples and 13 normal ovarian samples, finding 34.7% (151/437), 11.7% (2/17), 10.5% (2/19) and 0% (0/13) of methylation frequency, respectively, (establishing an empiric cutoff). Using fisher's exact test, we observe a significant increase in methylation when comparing tumors with cystadenomas and normals (p=0.0439 and p=0.0131, respectively). Late stage tumors also showed a higher frequency of methylation versus early stage (p=0.004).

So far, we have demonstrated reduced log growth rates after transiently overexpressing GULP1 in one ovarian cell line (IGROVCP). To assess its potential as a TSG, we have ongoing experiments to assess its biological function as ectopic overexpression of this gene in ovarian cancer cell lines as well as creating knock downs using shRNAs.

These preliminary data indicate that GULP1 may be an ovarian cancer biomarker. Further studies on the biology of this gene are needed to evaluate its potential as a TSG and its role in ovarian cancer carcinogenesis.

Citation Format: {Authors}. {Abstract title} [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 101st Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2010 Apr 17-21; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2010;70(8 Suppl):Abstract nr 4891.