Methylation analyses in liquid biopsy

Delphine Lissa, Ana I. Robles


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Recent implementation of low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening is predicted to lead to diagnosis of lung cancer at an earlier stage, with survival benefit. However, there is still a pressing need for biomarkers that will identify individuals eligible for screening, as well as improve the diagnostic accuracy of LDCT. In addition, biomarkers for prognostic stratification of patients with early stage disease, and those that can be used as surrogates to monitor tumor evolution, will greatly improve clinical management. Molecular alterations found in the DNA of tumor cells, such as mutations, translocations and methylation, are reflected in DNA that is released from the tumor into the bloodstream. Thus, in recent years, circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) has gained increasing attention as a noninvasive alternative to tissue biopsies and potential surrogate for the entire tumor genome. Activating gene mutations found in ctDNA have been proven effective in predicting response to targeted therapy. Analysis of ctDNA is also a valuable tool for longitudinal follow-up of cancer patients that does not require serial biopsies and may anticipate the acquisition of resistance. DNA methylation has also emerged as a promising marker for early detection, prognosis and real-time follow-up of tumor dynamics that is independent of the genomic composition of the primary tumor. This review summarizes the various investigational applications of methylated ctDNA in lung cancer reported to date. It also provides a brief overview of the technologies for analysis of DNA methylation in liquid biopsies, and the challenges that befall the implementation of methylated ctDNA into routine clinical practice.