Diversity of genetic events associated with MLH1 promoter methylation in Lynch syndrome families with heritable constitutional epimutation

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Constitutional epimutations are an alternative to genetic mutations in the etiology of genetic diseases. Some of these epimutations, termed secondary, correspond to the epigenetic effects of cis-acting genetic defects transmitted to the offspring following a Mendelian inheritance pattern. In Lynch syndrome, a few families with such apparently heritable MLH1 epimutations have been reported so far.


We designed a long-range polymerase chain reaction next-generation sequencing strategy to screen MLH1 entire gene and applied it to 4 French families with heritable epimutations and 10 additional patients with no proven transmission of their epimutations.


This strategy successfully detected the insertion of an Alu element in MLH1 coding sequence in one family. Two previously unreported MLH1 variants were also identified in other epimutation carriers: a nucleotide substitution within intron 1 and a single-nucleotide deletion in the 5′-UTR. Detection of a partial MLH1 duplication in another family required multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification technology. We demonstrated the segregation of these variants with MLH1 methylation and studied the functional consequences of these defects on transcription.


This is the largest cohort of patients with MLH1 secondary epimutations associated with a broad spectrum of genetic defects. This study provides further insight into the complexity of molecular mechanisms leading to secondary epimutations.

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Figure 1: Long-range polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and next-generation sequencing strategy.
Figure 2: Family 1.
Figure 3: Family 2.
Figure 4: Family 3 and patient P4.


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This work was supported by Lille University Hospital (Fonds Hospitalier d’Aide à l’Emergence et la Structuration des Activités et Équipes de Recherche).

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Correspondence to Julie Leclerc PharmD, PhD.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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  • constitutional epimutation
  • Lynch syndrome
  • MLH1 promoter methylation
  • secondary epimutation
  • structural variants

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