Background: The progression of neoplasia in colorectal cancer (CRC) has been well characterized, with the evolution typically involving mutations in APC, KRAS, and p53, among others. POLE/POLD1 genes encode for proteins essential in enzymatic DNA polymerase function, yet POLE/POLD1 mutations in tumors are poorly characterized. Pathogenic mutations in POLE/POLD1 lead to decreased fidelity of DNA replication, resulting in a high tumor mutational burden (TMB-H) independent of deficient mismatch repair (dMMR) and high microsatellite instability (MSI-H). Studies have shown associations between this hypermutated phenotype and susceptibility to immune checkpoint inhibition, which may be attributable to neoantigen creation. As such, these tumors are a clinically relevant phenotype requiring further investigation. Here, we characterized POLE/POLD1 alterations in a large, real-world cohort of patients with CRC.
Methods: We retrospectively analyzed de-identified records of 9,136 primary CRC patients profiled with the Tempus xT assay. The assay includes DNA-seq of 595-648 genes at 500x to evaluate single-nucleotide variants, insertions/deletions, and copy number changes. Immunological markers analyzed included tumor mutational burden (TMB), MSI, and dMMR. MSI-H was determined by the assay through assessment of 239 loci. dMMR was determined by immunohistochemistry.
Results: A total of 217 patient tumors harbored somatic POLE/POLD1 mutations (n = 203 POLE, n = 13 POLD1, and n = 1 POLE and POLD1; none germline), with no differences noted in baseline demographics including gender and age. Among the POLE/POLD1-mutant cohort, POLE copy number losses accounted for most mutations (n = 127, 59%), with short variants and copy number amplifications accounting for 35% (n = 76). The remainder of tumors exhibited POLD1 copy number changes (n = 14), including one with both POLE and POLD1 copy number loss. POLE/POLD1-mutated tumors presented with a lower frequency of MSI-H compared to wild-type (1.8% vs 6.1%, P= 0.018). Conversely, there was a higher frequency of TMB-high cases ( > 10 mut/Mb) for POLE/POLD1-mutated compared to wild-type tumors (22% vs 9.9%, P< 0.001). Differences between POLE/POLD1-mutated and wild-type tumors were also observed among many co-mutated genes, including APC (80% vs 65%, P< 0.001), ALK (31% vs 11%, P< 0.001), ATM (12% vs 3.6%, P< 0.001), BRCA2 (12% vs. 3.2%), and RET (24% vs 8.9%, P< 0.001).
Conclusions: Patients with POLE/POLD1 mutations exhibited significant differences across immunological markers and molecular co-alterations. POLE/POLD1 mutations in CRC have been previously described to present with a hypermutated phenotype; however, 78% of tumors exhibited low TMB despite POLE/POLD1 mutations. Thus, these results have identified POLE/POLD1-mutated tumors as a unique genomic subpopulation, and further studies are needed to better characterize POLE/POLD1 mutations in CRC.
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