Methylated markers accurately distinguish primary central nervous system lymphomas (PCNSL) from other CNS tumors

Bradley M. Downs, Wanjun Ding, Leslie M. Cope, Christopher B. Umbricht, Wenge Li, Huihua He, Xiaokang Ke, Matthias Holdhoff, Chetan Bettegowda, Weiping Tao, Saraswati Sukumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Definitive diagnosis of primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL) requires invasive surgical brain biopsy, causing treatment delays. In this paper, we identified and validated tumor-specific markers that can distinguish PCNSL from other CNS tumors in tissues. In a pilot study, we tested these newly identified markers in plasma. Results: The Methylation Outlier Detector program was used to identify markers in TCGA dataset of 48 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and 656 glioblastomas and lower-grade gliomas. Eight methylated markers clearly distinguished DLBCL from gliomas. Marker performance was verified (ROC-AUC of ≥ 0.989) in samples from several GEO datasets (95 PCNSL; 2112 other primary CNS tumors of 11 types). Next, we developed a novel, efficient assay called Tailed Amplicon Multiplexed-Methylation-Specific PCR (TAM-MSP), which uses two of the methylation markers, cg0504 and SCG3 triplexed with ACTB. FFPE tissue sections (25 cases each) of PCNSL and eight types of other primary CNS tumors were analyzed using TAM-MSP. TAM-MSP distinguished PCNSL from the other primary CNS tumors with 100% accuracy (AUC = 1.00, 95% CI 0.95–1.00, P < 0.001). The TAM-MSP assay also detected as few as 5 copies of fully methylated plasma DNA spiked into 0.5 ml of healthy plasma. In a pilot study of plasma from 15 PCNSL, 5 other CNS tumors and 6 healthy individuals, methylation in cg0504 and SCG3 was detectable in 3/15 PCNSL samples (20%). Conclusion: The Methylation Outlier Detector program identified methylated markers that distinguish PCNSL from other CNS tumors with accuracy. The high level of accuracy achieved by these markers was validated in tissues by a novel method, TAM-MSP. These studies lay a strong foundation for a liquid biopsy-based test to detect PCNSL-specific circulating tumor DNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Circulating tumor DNA
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetic biomarkers
  • Liquid biopsy
  • Primary central nervous system lymphoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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