Purpose: To evaluate aberrant promoter hypermethylation of candidate tumor suppressor genes as a means to detect epigenetic alterations specific to solid tumors, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Experimental Design: Using promoter regions identified via a candidate gene and discovery approach, we evaluated the ability of an expanded panel of CpG-rich promoters known to be differentially hypermethylated in HNSCC in detection of promoterhypermethylation in serum and salivary rinses associated with HNSCC. We did preliminary evaluation via quantitative methylation-specific PCR (Q-MSP) using a panel of 21 genes in a limited cohort of patients with HNSCC and normal controls. Using sensitivity and specificity for individual markers as criteria, we selected panels of eight and six genes, respectively, for use in salivary rinse and serum detection and tested these in an expanded cohort including up to 211 patients with HNSCC and 527 normal controls. Results: Marker panels in salivary rinses showed improved detection when compared with single markers, including a panel with 35% sensitivity and 90% specificity and a panel with 85% sensitivity and 30% specificity. A similar pattern was noted in serum panels, including a panel with 84.5% specificity with 50.0% sensitivity and a panel with sensitivity of 81.0% with specificity of 43.5%. We also noted that serum and salivary rinse compartments showed a differential pattern of methylation in normal subjects that influenced the utility of individual markers. Conclusions: Q-MSP detection of HNSCC in serum and salivary rinses using multiple targets offers improved performance when compared with single markers. Compartment-specific methylation in normal subjects affects the utility of Q-MSP detection strategies.
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