Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) syndrome is the most common cause of hereditary colorectal cancer with an early age of onset. Microsatellite instability (MSI) and germline mutation in one of the DNA mismatch repair (MMR) genes are found in the majority of HNPCC families and provide an opportunity for genetic diagnosis and prophylactic screening. The MMR gene mutation spectrum may vary across different populations and be influenced by founder mutations that prevail in specific ethnic groups. China is a big and ancient nation with enormous genetic diversity, which is especially notable between the northern and southern Chinese populations. A MMR gene mutation database for the southern Chinese population based in Hong Kong has been previously established. This study compares the MMR gene mutation spectrum and the MSI of HNPCC between the northern and southern Chinese populations.
Twenty-five HNPCC families from northern China were systematically analyzed. The MSI analysis was performed using five loci in the USA National Cancer Institute (NCI) panel (D2S123, D5S346, BAT-25, BAT-26 and BAT-40) by PCR from the tumor and normal tissue. MSH2, MSH6 and MLH1 were performed using immunohistochemical staining. Two founder mutations of MSH2 and MLH1 were examined by PCR base analyses using primers flanking the two deletion sites (c.1452_1455delAATG in MSH2 and 1.8 kb deletion involving exon 11 of MLH1).
Of the 25 families collected, 19 met Bethesda guideline (BG) 1 and six met BG3. Twenty-two (15.7%) were extra-colonic cancers with gastric cancer (in seven patients) being the most common cancer type. Of the 25 tumors analyzed, 21 (84%) were high level microsatellite instability (MSI-H) and four (16%) were microsatellite stable (MSS). Eighteen (86%) of the 21 MSI-H tumors showed loss of either the MLH1 or the MSH2 protein. Three MSI-H tumors and all four MSS tumors showed no loss of expression of the three MMR proteins. Out of the 21 patients with MSI-H tumors, 12 (57%) showed pathogenic germline mutations in either MLH1 (n = 8) or MSH2 (n = 4). Overall, three novel mutations (in patients H22, H17 and H29) have been identified. One of them, c.503_4insA, caused a frameshift mutation in the MLH1 gene. The other two were found in the MSH2 gene, including a frameshift (c.899_890insAT) and a splice junction (IVS7-1G-->A, SA of Exon 8) mutation.
The results suggest a distinctly different mutation spectrum of MMR genes between northern and southern Chinese populations and call for a systematic, nationwide study to facilitate the design of a MMR gene mutation detection strategy tailored for individual populations in China.