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Identifying epigenetic biomarkers of established prognostic factors and survival in a clinical cohort of individuals with oropharyngeal cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Ryan Langdon
  • Rebecca Richmond
  • Hannah R Elliott
  • Tom Dudding
  • Nabila Kazmi
  • Chris Penfold
  • Kate Ingarfield
  • Karen Ho
  • Andrew Bretherick
  • Chris Haley
  • Yanni Zeng
  • Rosie M Walker
  • Michael Pawlita
  • Tim Waterboer
  • Tom Gaunt
  • George Davey Smith
  • Matthew Suderman
  • Steve Thomas
  • Andy Ness
  • Caroline Relton

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2020


BACKGROUND: Smoking status, alcohol consumption and HPV infection (acquired through sexual activity) are the predominant risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer and are thought to alter the prognosis of the disease. Here, we conducted single-site and differentially methylated region (DMR) epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) of these factors, in addition to ∼ 3-year survival, using Illumina Methylation EPIC DNA methylation profiles from whole blood in 409 individuals as part of the Head and Neck 5000 (HN5000) study. Overlapping sites between each factor and survival were then assessed using two-step Mendelian randomization to assess whether methylation at these positions causally affected survival.

RESULTS: Using the MethylationEPIC array in an OPC dataset, we found novel CpG associations with smoking, alcohol consumption and ~ 3-year survival. We found no CpG associations below our multiple testing threshold associated with HPV16 E6 serological response (used as a proxy for HPV infection). CpG site associations below our multiple-testing threshold (PBonferroni < 0.05) for both a prognostic factor and survival were observed at four gene regions: SPEG (smoking), GFI1 (smoking), PPT2 (smoking) and KHDC3L (alcohol consumption). Evidence for a causal effect of DNA methylation on survival was only observed in the SPEG gene region (HR per SD increase in methylation score 1.28, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.43, P 2.12 × 10-05).

CONCLUSIONS: Part of the effect of smoking on survival in those with oropharyngeal cancer may be mediated by methylation at the SPEG gene locus. Replication in data from independent datasets and data from HN5000 with longer follow-up times is needed to confirm these findings.

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