Differences and evolution of the methods for the assessment of microsatellite instability

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Microsatellite instability (MSI) originates from the systematic accumulation of uncorrected deletion/insertion in repetitive DNA tracts in cancer cells with a deficient mismatch repair system. Among colorectal cancers, the MSI signature identifies hereditary cases arising in patients with germline mutations in hMLH1, hMSH2, PMS2 and a fraction of those with hMSH6 mutations, as well as sporadic cancers with epigenetic hMLH1 promoter hypermethylation. Considering the specific pathogenesis, pathological features, natural history and response to 5-fluoro-uracil-based chemotherapy of the MSI cancers, confusion about the genetic markers for MSI recognition seems surprising. In this clinically relevant field, an agreement has not been reached concerning the use of di- or mononucleotide markers for MSI assessment. The Revised Bethesda Guidelines still recommend a panel of markers consisting of mono- and dinucleotides, despite being questioned whether it is congruous to continue to use dinucleotide markers for MSI identification. In any event, no single marker is accurate enough for MSI testing, and an awareness of their pros and cons is required for proper interpretation of results. In recent years, several papers have reported different prevalence of MSI in unrelated series, largely depending on the detection and classification method, suggesting that MSI test interpretation also requires the understanding of the phenomenon rather than simply the crude satisfaction of panel recommendations. Inaccuracies can otherwise lead to under- or overdiagnosis and inaccurate disease classification, which always have a negative impact on the clinical practice of medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6313-6321
Number of pages9
Issue number49
Publication statusPublished - Oct 23 2008


  • Inherited and sporadic colorectal cancer
  • Microsatellite instability
  • Mismatch repair defects
  • Molecular diagnosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research
  • Genetics


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