Objectives: Patients with ulcerative colitis are at risk for colorectal cancer (CRC). Although prior studies have shown a link between HLA genotypes and ulcerative colitis (UC) susceptibility, none have investigated HLA genotypes and UC-CRC. We therefore investigated HLA-DR/DQ alleles in UC-CRC cases and UC-controls. Furthermore, since methylation of the Class II transactivator (CIITA) gene may silence HLA expression in tumours, we correlated HLA allele frequencies with CIITA gene methylation and HLA-DR expression.
Methods: Cases and controls were matched for duration/extent of ulcerative colitis, age, ethnicity and gender, but not for primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). DNA was extracted from archived tissue blocks from 114 UC-CRC cases and 114 UC-controls. HLA-DR/DQ genotyping was performed using sequence-specific-oligonucleotide polymerase chain reaction (SSO-PCR). CIITA methylation was determined using methylation-specific PCR. HLA-DR immunohistochemistry was done following standard protocols.
Results: UC-CRC cases were more likely than UC-controls to carry the DR17 or DR13 alleles (p<0.0001 or p = 0.02, respectively). Although CIITA methylation did not vary significantly between cases and controls, DR17 and DQ2 were associated with CIITA methylation (p = 0.04 and 0.02, respectively). UC-controls more frequently carried the DR7, DR1 or DQ5 alleles (p = 0.002, 0.05 or 0.01, respectively). After adjusting for PSC, DR17 remained significantly associated with an increased risk for UC-CRC while DR7 and DQ5 remained protective.
Conclusions: We report a significant association between specific HLA alleles and either the risk for (DR17) or protection from (DR7, DQ5) UC-CRC. This suggests a possible genetic predisposition for increased UC-CRC risk. In addition, DQ2 and DR17 were associated with CIITA methylation.
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Funding This research was supported by funding from the Broad Medical Research Program (Broad Foundation) and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
Competing interests None.
See Commentary, p 1177
Ethics approval The Institutional Review Board of the Mayo Clinic approved this research protocol, on 9 September 2003.
Authors’ contributions to this study
MMG-P is the guarantor of this submission and reviewed the patient histories, extracted the DNA, performed the genotyping on the samples and drafted the manuscript. EVL provided the list of patients for consideration. SCB provided statistical support for the study. WJS provided clinical detail to the paper. TCS re-reviewed all pathology slides from the cases and controls studied for confirmation of diagnosis. SCB, EVL, WJS and TCS reviewed, edited and approved the final manuscript.