Gastric Cancer With Primitive Enterocyte Phenotype: An Aggressive Subgroup of Intestinal-type Adenocarcinoma

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A primitive cell-like gene expression signature is associated with aggressive phenotypes of various cancers. We assessed the expression of phenotypic markers characterizing primitive cells and its correlation with clinicopathologic and molecular characteristics in gastric cancer. Immunohistochemical analysis of a panel of primitive phenotypic markers, including embryonic stem cell markers (OCT4, NANOG, SALL4, CLDN6, and LIN28) and known oncofetal proteins (AFP and GPC3), was performed using tissue microarray on 386 gastric cancers. On the basis of the expression profiles, the 386 tumors were clustered into 3 groups: group 1 (primitive phenotype, n=93): AFP, CLDN6, GPC3, or diffuse SALL4 positive; group 2 (SALL4-focal, n=56): only focal SALL4 positive; and group 3 (negative, n=237): all markers negative. Groups 1 and 2 predominantly consisted of intestinal-type adenocarcinoma, including 13 fetal gut-like adenocarcinomas exclusively in group 1. Group 1 was significantly associated with higher T-stage, presence of vascular invasion and nodal metastasis when compared with groups 2 and 3. Group 1 was associated with patients’ poor prognosis and was an independent risk factor for disease-free survival. Group 1 showed frequent TP53 overexpression and little association with Epstein-Barr virus or mismatch repair deficiency. Further analysis of the Cancer Genome Atlas data set validated our observations and revealed that tumors with primitive phenotypes were mostly classified as “chromosomal instability” in the Cancer Genome Atlas’ molecular classification. We identified gastric cancer with primitive enterocyte phenotypes as an aggressive subgroup of intestinal-type/chromosomal instability gastric cancer. Therapeutic strategies targeting primitive markers, such as GPC3, CLDN6, and SALL4, are highly promising.

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