The tumor suppressor Wnt inhibitory factor 1 is frequently methylated in nasopharyngeal and esophageal carcinomas

Stephen L. Chan, Yan Cui, Andrew Van Hasselt, Hongyu Li, Gopesh Srivastava, Hongchuan Jin, Ka M. Ng, Yajun Wang, Kwan Y. Lee, George S.W. Tsao, Sheng Zhong, Keith D. Robertson, Sun Y. Rha, Anthony T.C. Chan, Qian Tao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Aberrant activation of the wingless-type- (Wnt)-signaling pathway is common in many cancers including nasopharyngeal (NPC) and esophageal squamous cell (ESCC) carcinomas, both prevalent in Southern China and Southeast Asia. However, the molecular mechanism leading to this abnormality is still obscure. Wnt inhibitory factor-1 (WIF1) is a secreted antagonist of the Wnt pathway, and is recently shown to be inactivated by epigenetic mechanism in some tumors. Here, we examined whether WIF1 is also inactivated epigenetically in NPC and ESCC. With semiquantitative reverse transcription-PCR and methylation-specific PCR, we detected WIF1 downregulation or silencing in 6/6 of NPC and 12/19 of ESCC cell lines, which is well correlated with its methylation status. Methylation was further confirmed by high-resolution bisulfite genomic sequencing. Methylation was also frequently observed in a large collection of primary tumors of NPC (85%, 55/65) and ESCC (27%, 25/92), with WIF1 expressed and unmethylated in normal NPC and esophageal cell lines and normal tissues. Treatment of 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine demethylated WIF1 and induced its expression in NPC and ESCC cell lines, highlighting a direct role of epigenetic inactivation. Ectopic expression of WIF1 in NPC and ESCC tumor cells resulted in significant inhibition of tumor cell colony formation, similar to TP53, and also significant downregulation of β-catenin protein level in NPC cells. Thus, WIF1 functions as a tumor suppressor for both NPC and ESCC through suppressing the Wnt-signaling pathway, but is frequently silenced by epigenetic mechanism in a tumor-specific way. Our study indicates that epigenetic inactivation of WIF1 contributes to the aberrant activation of Wnt pathway and is involved in the pathogenesis of both tumors. WIF1 methylation could also serve as a specific biomarker for these tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)644-650
Number of pages7
JournalLaboratory Investigation
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 5 2007


  • Esophageal carcinoma
  • Methylation
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • Tumor suppressor gene
  • WIF1
  • β-catenin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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