The CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP+) of colorectal cancer (CRC) occurs predominantly in the proximal colon and is characterized by frequent hypermethylation of gene promoter regions. In this review, we present evidence suggesting CIMP+ represents the subgroup of colon cancers that are responsive to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-based treatments. CIMP+ has been associated with survival benefit from 5-FU in a clinical study of CRC, with additional evidence coming from studies on gastric cancer and tumor cell lines. Elevated concentrations of 5-10-methylene tetrahydrofolate (CH(2)FH(4)) occur in CIMP+ tumors and are probably due to low expression levels for gamma-glutamyl hydrolase (GGH). Clinical and in vitro work has previously shown that high CH(2)FH(4) and low GGH expression levels correlate with good response to 5-FU. Methylation-induced silencing of dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase, the rate-limiting enzyme in 5-FU degradation, may also provide a link between CIMP+ and good response to 5-FU. The CIMP+-related phenotype referred to as microsatellite instability (MSI+) has been widely investigated as a predictive marker of response to 5-FU, with contradictory results. The interpretation of these studies is likely to be confounded by the fact that some MSI+ tumors occur in the background of CIMP+, but a significant proportion of others do not. Further studies on tumors from randomized clinical trials are required to confirm the value of CIMP+ and associated molecular features for the prediction of clinical outcome to 5-FU-based chemotherapy.
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