Gene expression in tumor-adjacent normal tissue is associated with recurrence in patients with rectal cancer treated with adjuvant chemoradiation

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Recurrence is a significant clinical problem for patients with rectal cancer treated with adjuvant chemoradiation. Previous studies have suggested that determining intratumoral gene expression of key genes may be helpful in predicting clinical outcome of patients with gastrointestinal malignancies undergoing chemotherapy. The role of molecular predictors for prediction of recurrence in the setting of adjuvant chemoradiotherapy is not well established. The present study was designed to identify a genetic profile that would be associated with recurrence in patients with rectal cancer treated with adjuvant chemoradiation therapy. A retrospective study with a longitudinal cohort and a cross-sectional cohort of 67 patients with locally advanced rectal cancer who underwent cancer resection, followed by 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) plus pelvic radiation was conducted. Total RNA was extracted from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded, laser-captured-microdissected tissue. We determined mRNA levels of genes involved in the 5-FU pathway (thymidylate synthase, dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase), DNA-repair (excision-repair cross-complementing factor 1, Rad51), angiogenesis/radiation sensitivity [vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)] and radio-sensitivity [epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)] in tumor tissue and tumor-adjacent normal tissue by quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. In univariate analysis, only intratumoral gene expression level of VEGF (P=0.055) was associated with recurrence, whereas elevated mRNA expression levels of thymidylate synthase (P=0.008), VEGF (P=0.023) and EGFR (P=0.004) in tumor-adjacent normal tissue were significantly associated with recurrence. Multivariate analysis using recursive partitioning indicated that distinct groups of recurrence could be defined by elevated mRNA expression levels of VEGF, EGFR in tumor-adjacent normal tissue, and Rad51 in tumor tissue. These data suggest that the genetic profile of the tumor-adjacent normal tissue may be associated with treatment failure, indicating that tumor microenvironment may be more important in the development of recurrence of rectal tumors than formerly expected.

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