Colorectal carcinogenesis: MSI-H versus MSI-L

Timothy M. Pawlik, Chandrajit P. Raut, Miguel A. Rodriguez-Bigas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Microsatellite instability (MSI) is a well-recognized phenomenon that is classically a feature of tumors in the hereditary non-polyposis colorectal syndrome. Ten to 15% of sporadic colorectal cancers, however, will have MSI. Microsatellite unstable tumors can be divided into two distinct MSI phenotypes: MSI-high (MSI-H) and MSI-low (MSI-L). MSI sporadic colorectal cancers with a high level of MSI (MSI-H) form a well defined group with distinct clinicopathologic features characterized by an overall better long-term prognosis. These sporadic MSI-H colorectal tumors most often arise from the epigenetic silencing of the mismatch repair gene MLH1. In contrast, MSI-L colorectal tumors have not been shown to differ in their clinicopathologic features or in most molecular features from microsatellite stable (MSS) tumors. Unlike MSI-H tumors, MSI-L tumors appear to arise through the chromosomal instability carcinogenesis pathway, similar to MSS tumors. Some groups have reported more frequent mutations in K-ras and in the methylation of methylguanine transferase in MSI-L tumors, but others have questioned these findings. Therefore, although the use of the MSI-L category is widespread, there continues to be some debate as to whether a discrete MSI-L group truly exists. Rather, it has been suggested that MSI-L tumors differ quantitatively from MSS tumors but do not differ qualitatively. Future studies will need to evaluate the specific mutations in non-MSI-H tumors in an attempt to sub-classify MSI-L tumors with regard to MSS tumors so that subtle differences between these two sub-groups can be identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-206
Number of pages8
JournalDisease Markers
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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