We explored the association of human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16) DNA methylation with age, viral load, viral persistence and risk of incident and prevalent high grade CIN (CIN2+) in serially collected specimens from the Guanacaste, Costa Rica cohort. 273 exfoliated cervical cell specimens (diagnostic and pre-diagnostic) were selected: (1) 92 with HPV16 DNA clearance (controls), (2) 72 with HPV16 DNA persistence (without CIN2+) and (3) 109 with CIN2+. DNA was extracted, bisulfite converted and methylation was quantified using pyrosequencing assays at 66 CpGs across the HPV genome. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to determine significant differences among groups, and receiver operating characteristic curve analyses were used to evaluate how well methylation identified women with CIN2+. In diagnostic specimens, 88% of CpG sites had significantly higher methylation levels in CIN2+ after correction for multiple tests compared with controls. The highest area under the ROC curve (AUC) was 0.82 for CpG site 6457 in L1, and a diagnostic sensitivity of 91% corresponded to a specificity of 60% for CIN2+. Prospectively, 17% of CpG sites had significantly higher methylation in pre-diagnostic CIN2+ specimens (median time of 3 years before diagnosis) versus controls. The strongest pre-diagnostic CpG site was 6367 in L1 with an AUC of 0.76. Age-stratified analyses suggested that women older than the median age of 28 years have an increased risk of precancer associated with high methylation. Higher methylation in CIN2+ cases was not explained by higher viral load. We conclude that elevated levels of HPV16 DNA methylation may be useful to predict concurrently diagnosed as well as future CIN2+.What's new?
Although most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16), infection with HPV16 generally doesn't lead to cancer. Biomarkers that could help clinicians distinguish between HPV infections that will clear spontaneously, and those that will progress to cervical precancer, would thus be very useful. In this study, the authors found that DNA methylation of particular CpG sites in the HPV16 genome may provide a valuable diagnostic biomarker for precancerous cervical lesions. It may also provide a reasonable predictive marker for infections that are likely to lead to such lesions in the future.