Immune Profiling of Premalignant Lesions in Patients With Lynch Syndrome

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Abstract

Importance

Colorectal carcinomas in patients with Lynch syndrome (LS) arise in a background of mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency, display a unique immune profile with upregulation of immune checkpoints, and response to immunotherapy. However, there is still a gap in understanding the pathogenesis of MMR-deficient colorectal premalignant lesions, which is essential for the development of novel preventive strategies for LS.

Objective

To characterize the immune profile of premalignant lesions from a cohort of patients with LS.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Whole-genome transcriptomic analysis using next-generation sequencing was performed in colorectal polyps and carcinomas of patients with LS. As comparator and model of MMR-proficient colorectal carcinogenesis, we used samples from patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). In addition, a total of 47 colorectal carcinomas (6 hypermutants and 41 nonhypermutants) were obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) for comparisons. Samples were obtained from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and “Regina Elena” National Cancer Institute, Rome, Italy. All diagnoses were confirmed by genetic testing. Polyps were collected at the time of endoscopic surveillance and tumors were collected at the time of surgical resection. The data were analyzed from October 2016 to November 2017.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Assessment of the immune profile, mutational signature, mutational and neoantigen rate, and pathway enrichment analysis of neoantigens in LS premalignant lesions and their comparison with FAP premalignant lesions, LS carcinoma, and sporadic colorectal cancers from TCGA.

Results

The analysis was performed in a total of 28 polyps (26 tubular adenomas and 2 hyperplastic polyps) and 3 early-stage LS colorectal tumors from 24 patients (15 [62%] female; mean [SD] age, 48.12 [15.38] years) diagnosed with FAP (n = 10) and LS (n = 14). Overall, LS polyps presented with low mutational and neoantigen rates but displayed a striking immune activation profile characterized by CD4 T cells, proinflammatory (tumor necrosis factor, interleukin 12) and checkpoint molecules (LAG3 [lymphocyte activation gene 3] and PD-L1 [programmed cell death 1 ligand 1]). This immune profile was independent of mutational rate, neoantigen formation, and MMR status. In addition, we identified a small subset of LS polyps with high mutational and neoantigen rates that were comparable to hypermutant tumors and displayed additional checkpoint (CTLA4 [cytotoxic T-lymphocyte–associated protein 4]) and neoantigens involved in DNA damage response (ATM and BRCA1 signaling).

Conclusions and Relevance

These findings challenge the canonical model, based on the observations made in carcinomas, that emphasizes a dependency of immune activation on the acquisition of high levels of mutations and neoantigens, thus opening the door to the implementation of immune checkpoint inhibitors and vaccines for cancer prevention in LS.

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