Tools for translational epigenetic studies involving formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded human tissue: Applying the Infinium HumanMethyation450 Beadchip assay to large population-based studies

Ee Ming Wong, Ji Hoon E. Joo, Catriona A. McLean, Laura Baglietto, Dallas R. English, Gianluca Severi, John L. Hopper, Roger L. Milne, Liesel M. Fitzgerald, Graham G. Giles, Melissa C. Southey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Large population-based translational epigenetic studies are emerging due to recent technological advances that have made molecular analyses possible. For example, the Infinium HumanMethylation450 Beadchip (HM450K) has enabled studies of genome-wide methylation on a scale not previously possible. However, application of the HM450K to DNA extracted from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tumour material has been more challenging than application to high quality DNA extracted from blood. To facilitate the application of this assay consistently across a large number of FFPE tumour-enriched DNA samples we have devised a modification to the HM450K protocol for FFPE that includes an additional quality control (QC) checkpoint. Results: QC checkpoint 3 was designed to assess the presence of DNA after bisulfite conversion and restoration, just prior to application of the HM450K assay. DNA was extracted from 474 archival FFPE breast tumour material. Five samples did not have a detectable amount of DNA with an additional 42 failing to progress past QC checkpoint 3. Genome-wide methylation was measured for the remaining 428 tumour-enriched DNA. Of these, only 4 samples failed our stringent HM450K data criteria thus representing a 99 % success rate. Using prior knowledge about methylation marks associated with breast cancer we further explored the quality of the data. Twenty probes in the BRCA1 promoter region showed increased methylation in triple-negative breast cancers compared to Luminal A, Luminal B and HER2-positive breast cancer subtypes. Validation of this observation in published data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Network (obtained from DNA extracted from fresh frozen tumour samples) confirms the quality of the data obtained from the improved protocol. Conclusions: The modified protocol is suitable for the analysis of FFPE tumour-enriched DNA and can be systematically applied to hundreds of samples. This protocol will have utility in population-based translational epigenetic studies and is applicable to a wide variety of translated studies interested in analysis of methylation and its role in the predisposition to disease and disease progression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number543
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Research Notes
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • BRCA1
  • Breast tumour subtype
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded
  • HM450K beadchip
  • Population-based translational epigenetic studies

Cite this