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Epigenetic dysregulation of the Wnt signalling pathway in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
  1. C S Chim,
  2. R Pang,
  3. R Liang
  1. Department of Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  1. Dr C S Chim, Department of Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital, 102 Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China; jcschim{at}


Background: Wnt signalling has recently been implicated in the pathogenesis of cancer.

Methods: This study investigated the activity of Wnt signalling in peripheral blood chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) lymphocytes, and the methylation status of seven soluble Wnt antagonist genes, including WIF1, DKK3, APC, SFRP1, SFRP2, SFRP4 and SFRP5, by using methylation-specific PCR in the peripheral blood CLL lymphocytes and bone marrow samples of patients with CLL at diagnosis.

Results: In the peripheral blood CLL lymphocytes, constitutive activation of Wnt signalling was detected, associated with hypermethylation of the soluble Wnt inhibitor genes. In the diagnostic CLL marrow samples, methylation of the seven genes was detected in up to 36.4% of samples. Moreover, 23 (52.3%) patients had methylation of at least one of the seven genes, of whom 14 (60.8%) had methylation of two or more Wnt inhibitor genes. Apart from an association of advanced age with DKK3 methylation, there was no association of gene hypermethylation with either clinical characteristics (including age, gender, lymphocyte count at diagnosis, Rai stage and poor-risk karyotype) or survival.

Conclusion: Wnt signalling is constitutively activated in CLL B lymphocytes in association with methylation of multiple soluble Wnt antagonist genes. Methylation of these soluble Wnt antagonist genes, occasionally multiple genes, in primary CLL marrow samples suggests an important role in CLL pathogenesis. Moreover, this study underscored the importance of studying methylation of a panel of, but not individual, genes regulating a cellular pathway.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: Ethics approval was obtained from the institution review board of Queen Mary Hospital.