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A polymorphism in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene predisposes to colorectal cancers with microsatellite instability
  1. B Shannon1,
  2. S Gnanasampanthan1,
  3. J Beilby2,
  4. B Iacopetta1
  1. 1Department of Surgery, University of Western Australia, Nedlands 6009, Australia
  2. 2Clinical Biochemistry, Pathcentre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands 6009, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr B Iacopetta, Department of Surgery, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley 6009, Australia;


Background: The enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) catalyses the formation of folate intermediates that are vital to methylation reactions. A polymorphic variant (TT) has been linked to reduced levels of plasma folate, aberrant DNA methylation in leucocytes, and increased risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) under conditions of low folate intake. The cystathionine beta-synthase (CBS) enzyme reduces homocysteine levels and thus may protect against CRC. The CBS gene has a variant, 844ins68, that has been linked with increased activity. These variants may be involved in the development of the subgroup of CRC displaying aberrant DNA methylation and frequently associated with microsatellite instability (MSI).

Aim: To investigate the frequencies of the TT and 844ins68 genotypes in CRC patients with MSI+ tumours compared with those with MSI− tumours and a control population.

Subjects: Patients with CRC (n=501) and healthy control subjects (n=1207) were studied. CRC cases were classified as MSI+ (n=75) or MSI− (n=426) based on deletions within the BAT-26 mononucleotide repeat.

Methods: Subjects were genotyped for MTHFR using polymerase chain reaction-single strand conformation polymorphism (PCR-SSCP) and PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) techniques, and for CBS using PCR.

Results: The MTHFR TT genotype was more frequent in older CRC patients (≥70 y) compared with equivalent aged controls (p=0.03), was associated with a significantly later age of diagnosis in patients with proximal colon tumours (p=0.02), and was almost twice as frequent in MSI+ than in MSI− tumours (p=0.05). Compared with normal controls, the 844ins68 variant of CBS was less frequent in patients with proximal tumours (p=0.02).

Conclusions: The TT genotype of MTHFR is associated with an increased risk of CRC in older populations, possibly due to age related disturbances in folate metabolism. The TT genotype appears to predispose to CRC that is MSI+. This may reflect the involvement of aberrant DNA methylation frequently associated with MSI+. The 844ins68 CBS polymorphism may protect against proximal tumours.

  • colorectal cancer
  • folate
  • DNA methylation
  • methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase
  • cystathionine beta-synthase
  • MTHFR, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase
  • CBS, cystathionine beta-synthase
  • CRC, colorectal cancer
  • MSI, microsatellite instability
  • 5,10-methyleneTHF, 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate
  • 5-methylTHF, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate
  • PCR-SSCP, polymerase chain reaction-single strand conformation polymorphism
  • OR, odds ratio
  • HR, hazard ratio

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