High SMAD4 levels appear in microsatellite instability and hypermethylated colon cancers, and indicate a better prognosis



Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths in western countries. CRC are commonly divided in cancers showing microsatellite stability (MSS) or microsatellite instability (MSI). A more novel classification is dependent on promoter hypermethylation of CpG islands (the CpG island methylator phenotype, CIMP), where cancers show high, low or negative methylation status. SMAD4, located on chromosome 18q, has been thoroughly investigated during the last years. Loss of SMAD4 expression has been reported to correlate with poor CRC patient prognosis. In this study, we analyze the impact of SMAD4 expression on prognosis in relation to MSI screening status and CIMP status. Four hundred and seventy-nine paraffin-embedded specimens of CRC were examined for nuclear SMAD4 expression using immunohistochemistry. The tumors were scored loss (−), moderate (+) and high (++) expressing tumors. Loss of SMAD4 correlated significantly with decreased survival in all colon cancer patients. High SMAD4 expression, however, was significantly associated with increased survival, especially in colon cancer patients, which has undergone potential curative surgery. In addition, in MSI tumors and CIMP-high tumors, high SMAD4 expression was significantly related to increase in survival, while loss of SMAD4 resulted in a significantly poorer prognosis. SMAD4 expression was not correlated to prognosis in rectal cancer cases. We conclude, loss of SMAD4 indicates a poor prognosis in colon cancer patients. The novel findings that high SMAD4 expression predicts a better prognosis suggests that SMAD4 immunohistochemistry could constitute a prognostic marker in combination with CIMP and MSI screening status.