bims-tumhet Biomed News
on Tumor Heterogeneity
Issue of 2022‒10‒02
twelve papers selected by
Sergio Marchini
Humanitas Research

  1. Front Genet. 2022 ;13 886170
      High-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOC) is a genomically unstable malignancy responsible for over 70% of all deaths due to ovarian cancer. With roughly 50% of all HGSOC harboring defects in the homologous recombination (HR) DNA repair pathway (e.g., BRCA1/2 mutations), the introduction of poly ADP-ribose polymerase inhibitors (PARPi) has dramatically improved outcomes for women with HR defective HGSOC. By blocking the repair of single-stranded DNA damage in cancer cells already lacking high-fidelity HR pathways, PARPi causes the accumulation of double-stranded DNA breaks, leading to cell death. Thus, this synthetic lethality results in PARPi selectively targeting cancer cells, resulting in impressive efficacy. Despite this, resistance to PARPi commonly develops through diverse mechanisms, such as the acquisition of secondary BRCA1/2 mutations. Perhaps less well documented is that PARPi can impact both the tumour microenvironment and the immune response, through upregulation of the stimulator of interferon genes (STING) pathway, upregulation of immune checkpoints such as PD-L1, and by stimulating the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Whilst targeted immunotherapies have not yet found their place in the clinic for HGSOC, the evidence above, as well as ongoing studies exploring the synergistic effects of PARPi with immune agents, including immune checkpoint inhibitors, suggests potential for targeting the immune response in HGSOC. Additionally, combining PARPi with epigenetic-modulating drugs may improve PARPi efficacy, by inducing a BRCA-defective phenotype to sensitise resistant cancer cells to PARPi. Finally, invigorating an immune response during PARPi therapy may engage anti-cancer immune responses that potentiate efficacy and mitigate the development of PARPi resistance. Here, we will review the emerging PARPi literature with a focus on PARPi effects on the immune response in HGSOC, as well as the potential of epigenetic combination therapies. We highlight the potential of transforming HGSOC from a lethal to a chronic disease and increasing the likelihood of cure.
    Keywords:  PARPi combinations; checkpoint inhibition; clinical trials; combination (combined) therapy; epigenetics; high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma; immunotherapy; poly ADP-ribose polymerase inhibitors
  2. Cancer Drug Resist. 2022 ;5(3): 637-646
      Epithelial ovarian cancer remains the most lethal female malignancy despite options for systemic therapy and the emergence of targeted therapies. Although initial response to therapy is observed, recurrence and ultimately chemoresistance result in overall therapeutic failure. This pattern has been evident with platinum therapy since the 1980s. Significant excitement surrounded the approval of poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibition (PARPi) as a novel therapeutic option, especially with the advent of personalized medicine, but resistance has similarly developed to these treatments. Novel agents are constantly being sought, but if the obstacle of chemoresistance remains, the durability of responses will remain tenuous. Unraveling the multifactorial mechanisms of platinum and PARPi resistance is increasingly important as a therapeutic failure with current strategies is almost assured. Focusing greater efforts on expanding the current understanding of the complex nature of platinum and PARPi chemoresistance has tremendous potential to improve clinical outcomes.
    Keywords:  Epithelial ovarian cancer; chemoresistance; platinum resistance; poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitor resistance; tumor microenvironment
  3. Nat Biotechnol. 2022 Sep 26.
      Genome instability and aberrant alterations of transcriptional programs both play important roles in cancer. Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) has the potential to investigate both genetic and nongenetic sources of tumor heterogeneity in a single assay. Here we present a computational method, Numbat, that integrates haplotype information obtained from population-based phasing with allele and expression signals to enhance detection of copy number variations from scRNA-seq. Numbat exploits the evolutionary relationships between subclones to iteratively infer single-cell copy number profiles and tumor clonal phylogeny. Analysis of 22 tumor samples, including multiple myeloma, gastric, breast and thyroid cancers, shows that Numbat can reconstruct the tumor copy number profile and precisely identify malignant cells in the tumor microenvironment. We identify genetic subpopulations with transcriptional signatures relevant to tumor progression and therapy resistance. Numbat requires neither sample-matched DNA data nor a priori genotyping, and is applicable to a wide range of experimental settings and cancer types.
  4. Cancer Genet. 2022 Sep 14. pii: S2210-7762(22)00120-X. [Epub ahead of print]268-269 37-45
      BACKGROUND: The aim of this paper is to explore the correlation between circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) methylation and mutations and its value in clinical early cancer screening.METHODS: We performed target region methylation sequencing and genome sequencing on plasma samples. Methylation models to distinguish cancer from healthy individuals have been developed using hypermethylated genes in tumors and validated in training set and prediction set.
    RESULTS: We found that patients with cancer had higher levels of ctDNA methylation compared to healthy individuals. The level of ctDNA methylation in cell cycle, p53, Notch pathway in pan-cancer was significantly correlated with the number of mutations, and mutation frequency. Methylation burden in some tumors was significantly correlated with tumor mutational burden (TMB), microsatellite instability (MSI) and PD-L1. The ctDNA methylation differences in cancer patients were mainly concentrated in the Herpes simplex virus 1 infection pathway. The area under curve (AUC) of the training and prediction sets of the methylation model distinguishing cancer from healthy individuals were 0.93 and 0.92, respectively.
    CONCLUSION: Our study provides a landscape of methylation levels of important pathways in pan-cancer. ctDNA methylation significantly correlates with mutation type, frequency and number, providing a reference for clinical application of ctDNA methylation in early cancer screening.
    Keywords:  Circulating tumor DNA; Epigenetics; Methylation model; Pan-cancer analysis; Pathway
  5. Med Oncol. 2022 Sep 30. 39(12): 241
      When DNA repair is inadequate it increases the chances of the genome becoming unstable and it undergoes a malignant mutation. The deficiency of DNA repair PARP proteins may be leveraged for cancer therapy by increasing genomic instability and causing massive DNA damage in cancer cells. DNA repair components are under increased demand in cancer cells because of the continuous replication of DNA. The oncogenic loss of BRCA and an inefficient DNA repair led to cancer cells being dependent on particular DNA repair pathways, like the Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase pathway. Breast cancer gene 1 and 2 plays a crucial role in DNA repair and genome integrity explaining how BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations raise the menace of cancer. PARP inhibitors inhibit the base exclusion repair pathway, resulting in the buildup of unrepaired single strand breaks, which cause inflated replication forks in the S phase and subsequently the development of damaging double stranded breaks. Cells having BRCA mutations are unable to repair DNA breaks, leading to apoptosis and eventually death of cancer cells. Numerous indicators, such as a lack of homologous recombination and a high degree of replication pressure, indicate that this therapy will be very effective. Combining PARP inhibitors with chemotherapy, an immune checkpoint inhibitor, and a targeted drug is an effective strategy for combating PARP inhibitors resistance. Several PARP-based combination approaches are in preclinical and clinical development. Various clinical trials are successfully completed and some are undergoing to evaluate the efficacy of these molecules. This review will describe the current views and clinical updates on PARP inhibitors.
    Keywords:  Base exclusion repair pathway (BER); Breast cancer gene (BRCA); DNA; Double strand breaks (DSBs); FDA; HER2 receptor; PARP inhibitors; PDL1 inhibitors; Single strand breaks (SSBs)
  6. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 09 26. 9 CD015048
      BACKGROUND: Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer among women and a leading cause of death from gynaecological malignancies. Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type, accounting for around 90% of all ovarian cancers. This specific type of ovarian cancer starts in the surface layer covering the ovary or lining of the fallopian tube. Surgery is performed either before chemotherapy (upfront or primary debulking surgery (PDS)) or in the middle of a course of treatment with chemotherapy (neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT) and interval debulking surgery (IDS)), with the aim of removing all visible tumour and achieving no macroscopic residual disease (NMRD). The aim of this review is to investigate the prognostic impact of size of residual disease nodules (RD) in women who received upfront or interval cytoreductive surgery for advanced (stage III and IV) epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC).OBJECTIVES: To assess the prognostic impact of residual disease after primary surgery on survival outcomes for advanced (stage III and IV) epithelial ovarian cancer. In separate analyses, primary surgery included both upfront primary debulking surgery (PDS) followed by adjuvant chemotherapy and neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by interval debulking surgery (IDS). Each residual disease threshold is considered as a separate prognostic factor.
    SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL (2021, Issue 8), MEDLINE via Ovid (to 30 August 2021) and Embase via Ovid (to 30 August 2021).
    SELECTION CRITERIA: We included survival data from studies of at least 100 women with advanced EOC after primary surgery. Residual disease was assessed as a prognostic factor in multivariate prognostic models. We excluded studies that reported fewer than 100 women, women with concurrent malignancies or studies that only reported unadjusted results. Women were included into two distinct groups: those who received PDS followed by platinum-based chemotherapy and those who received IDS, analysed separately. We included studies that reported all RD thresholds after surgery, but the main thresholds of interest were microscopic RD (labelled NMRD), RD 0.1 cm to 1 cm (small-volume residual disease (SVRD)) and RD > 1 cm (large-volume residual disease (LVRD)).
    DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently abstracted data and assessed risk of bias. Where possible, we synthesised the data in meta-analysis. To assess the adequacy of adjustment factors used in multivariate Cox models, we used the 'adjustment for other prognostic factors' and 'statistical analysis and reporting' domains of the quality in prognosis studies (QUIPS) tool. We also made judgements about the certainty of the evidence for each outcome in the main comparisons, using GRADE. We examined differences between FIGO stages III and IV for different thresholds of RD after primary surgery. We considered factors such as age, grade, length of follow-up, type and experience of surgeon, and type of surgery in the interpretation of any heterogeneity. We also performed sensitivity analyses that distinguished between studies that included NMRD in RD categories of < 1 cm and those that did not. This was applicable to comparisons involving RD < 1 cm with the exception of RD < 1 cm versus NMRD. We evaluated women undergoing PDS and IDS in separate analyses.
    MAIN RESULTS: We found 46 studies reporting multivariate prognostic analyses, including RD as a prognostic factor, which met our inclusion criteria: 22,376 women who underwent PDS and 3697 who underwent IDS, all with varying levels of RD. While we identified a range of different RD thresholds, we mainly report on comparisons that are the focus of a key area of clinical uncertainty (involving NMRD, SVRD and LVRD). The comparison involving any visible disease (RD > 0 cm) and NMRD was also important. SVRD versus NMRD in a PDS setting In PDS studies, most showed an increased risk of death in all RD groups when those with macroscopic RD (MRD) were compared to NMRD. Women who had SVRD after PDS had more than twice the risk of death compared to women with NMRD (hazard ratio (HR) 2.03, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.80 to 2.29; I2 = 50%; 17 studies; 9404 participants; moderate-certainty). The analysis of progression-free survival found that women who had SVRD after PDS had nearly twice the risk of death compared to women with NMRD (HR 1.88, 95% CI 1.63 to 2.16; I2 = 63%; 10 studies; 6596 participants; moderate-certainty). LVRD versus SVRD in a PDS setting When we compared LVRD versus SVRD following surgery, the estimates were attenuated compared to NMRD comparisons. All analyses showed an overall survival benefit in women who had RD < 1 cm after surgery (HR 1.22, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.32; I2 = 0%; 5 studies; 6000 participants; moderate-certainty). The results were robust to analyses of progression-free survival. SVRD and LVRD versus NMRD in an IDS setting The one study that defined the categories as NMRD, SVRD and LVRD showed that women who had SVRD and LVRD after IDS had more than twice the risk of death compared to women who had NMRD (HR 2.09, 95% CI 1.20 to 3.66; 310 participants; I2 = 56%, and HR 2.23, 95% CI 1.49 to 3.34; 343 participants; I2 = 35%; very low-certainty, for SVRD versus NMRD and LVRD versus NMRD, respectively). LVRD versus SVRD + NMRD in an IDS setting Meta-analysis found that women who had LVRD had a greater risk of death and disease progression compared to women who had either SVRD or NMRD (HR 1.60, 95% CI 1.21 to 2.11; 6 studies; 1572 participants; I2 = 58% for overall survival and HR 1.76, 95% CI 1.23 to 2.52; 1145 participants; I2 = 60% for progression-free survival; very low-certainty). However, this result is biased as in all but one study it was not possible to distinguish NMRD within the < 1 cm thresholds. Only one study separated NMRD from SVRD; all others included NMRD in the SVRD group, which may create bias when comparing with LVRD, making interpretation challenging. MRD versus NMRD in an IDS setting Women who had any amount of MRD after IDS had more than twice the risk of death compared to women with NMRD (HR 2.11, 95% CI 1.35 to 3.29, I2 = 81%; 906 participants; very low-certainty).
    AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: In a PDS setting, there is moderate-certainty evidence that the amount of RD after primary surgery is a prognostic factor for overall and progression-free survival in women with advanced ovarian cancer. We separated our analysis into three distinct categories for the survival outcome including NMRD, SVRD and LVRD. After IDS, there may be only two categories required, although this is based on very low-certainty evidence, as all but one study included NMRD in the SVRD category. The one study that separated NMRD from SVRD showed no improved survival outcome in the SVRD category, compared to LVRD. Further low-certainty evidence also supported restricting to two categories, where women who had any amount of MRD after IDS had a significantly greater risk of death compared to women with NMRD. Therefore, the evidence presented in this review cannot conclude that using three categories applies in an IDS setting (very low-certainty evidence), as was supported for PDS (which has convincing moderate-certainty evidence).
  7. Exp Mol Pathol. 2022 Sep 20. pii: S0014-4800(22)00096-X. [Epub ahead of print]128 104833
      Ovarian cancer (OC) is the fifth most common type of cancer in women and the fourth most common cause of cancer death in women. Identification of pathogenic variants in OC tissues has an important clinical significance for therapeutic and prevention purposes. This study aims to evaluate the mutational profile of a patient cohort, negative for BRCA1/2 germinal variants and Mismatch Repair defects, using next-generation sequencing (NGS) approach on DNA from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded samples. We used a custom NGS panel, targeting 34 cancer-related genes, mainly of the BRCA and PARP pathways, and analyzed NGS data to identify somatic and germline variants in Italian patients affected by primary epithelial ovarian cancer. We analyzed 75 epithelial ovarian cancer tissues and identified 54 pathogenic variants and 56 variants of unknown significance. TP53 was characterized by the highest mutational rate, occurring in 55% of tested epithelial ovarian cancers (EOCs). Interestingly, a subset of 8 EOCs showed pathogenic variants of homologous recombination pathway, which could be sensitive to PARP-inhibitor therapies. Germline analysis of actionable genes revealed 4 patients carrier of pathogenic germline variants respectively of RAD51C (2 patients), RAD51D, and PALB2. Molecular profiling of EOCs using our custom NGS panel has enabled the detection of both somatic and germline variants, allowing the selection of patients suitable for targeted therapies, and the identification of high-risk OC families that can benefit from genetic counseling and testing.
    Keywords:  Epithelial ovarian cancer; Next-generation sequencing; PARP inhibitors; Pathogenic variant; Risk assessment
  8. Ann Oncol. 2022 Sep 23. pii: S0923-7534(22)04148-5. [Epub ahead of print]
      BACKGROUND: Seemingly normal tissues progressively become populated by mutant clones over time. Most of these clones bear mutations in well-known cancer genes but only rarely do they transform into cancer. This poses questions on what triggers cancer initiation and what implications somatic variation has for cancer early detection.DESIGN: We analysed recent mutational screens of healthy and cancer-free diseased tissues to compare somatic drivers and the causes of somatic variation across tissues. We then reviewed the mechanisms of clonal expansion and their relationships with age and diseases other than cancer. We finally discussed the relevance of somatic variation for cancer initiation and how it can help or hinder cancer detection and prevention.
    RESULTS: The extent of somatic variation is highly variable across tissues and depends on intrinsic features, such as tissue architecture and turnover, as well as the exposure to endogenous and exogenous insults. Most somatic mutations driving clonal expansion are tissue-specific and inactivate tumor suppressor genes involved in chromatin modification and cell growth signaling. Some of these genes are more frequently mutated in normal tissues than cancer, indicating a context-dependent cancer promoting or protective role. Mutant clones can persist over a long time or disappear rapidly, suggesting that their fitness depends on the dynamic equilibrium with the environment. The disruption of this equilibrium is likely responsible for their transformation into malignant clones and knowing what triggers this process is key for cancer prevention and early detection. Somatic variation should be considered in liquid biopsy, where it may contribute cancer-independent mutations, and in the identification of cancer drivers, since not all mutated genes favoring clonal expansion also drive tumorigenesis.
    CONCLUSIONS: Somatic variation and the factors governing homeostasis of normal tissues should be taken into account when devising strategies for cancer prevention and early detection.
    Keywords:  Somatic evolution; cancer early detection; cancer initiation; clone selection; driver gene; healthy tissues
  9. Bioinformatics. 2022 Sep 30. pii: btac645. [Epub ahead of print]
      MOTIVATION: The analysis of spatially-resolved transcriptome enables the understanding of the spatial interactions between the cellular environment and transcriptional regulation. In particular, the characterization of the gene-gene co-expression at distinct spatial locations or cell types in the tissue enables delineation of spatial co-regulatory patterns as opposed to standard differential single gene analyses. To enhance the ability and potential of spatial transcriptomics technologies to drive biological discovery, we develop a statistical framework to detect gene co-expression patterns in a spatially structured tissue consisting of different clusters in the form of cell classes or tissue domains.RESULTS: We develop SpaceX (spatially dependent gene co-expression network), a Bayesian methodology to identify both shared and cluster-specific co-expression network across genes. SpaceX uses an over-dispersed spatial Poisson model coupled with a high-dimensional factor model which is based on a dimension reduction technique for computational efficiency. We show via simulations, accuracy gains in co-expression network estimation and structure by accounting for (increasing) spatial correlation and appropriate noise distributions. In-depth analysis of two spatial transcriptomics datasets in mouse hypothalamus and human breast cancer using SpaceX, detected multiple hub genes which are related to cognitive abilities for the hypothalamus data and multiple cancer genes (e.g. collagen family) from the tumor region for the breast cancer data.
    AVAILABILITY AND IMPLEMENTATION: The SpaceX R-package is available at
    SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Supplementary data are available at
  10. J Pathol. 2022 Sep 28.
      Endometrial tumors show substantial heterogeneity in their immune microenvironment. This heterogeneity could be used to improve the accuracy of current outcome prediction tools. We assessed the immune microenvironment of 235 patients diagnosed with low-grade early-stage endometrial cancer. Multiplex quantitative immunofluorescence was carried out to measure CD8, CD68, FOXP3, PD-1 and PD-L1 markers as well as cytokeratin (CK) on tissue microarrays. Clustering results revealed five robust immune response patterns, each associated with specific immune populations, cell phenotypes, and cell spatial clustering. Most samples (69%) belonged to the immune-desert subtype, characterized by low immune cell densities. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) -rich samples (4%) displayed high CD8+ T-cell infiltration, as well as a high percentage of CD8/PD-1+ cells. Immune-exclusion samples (19%) displayed the lowest CD8+ infiltration combined with high PD-L1 expression levels in CK+ tumor cells. In addition, they demonstrated high tumor cell spatial clustering as well as increased spatial proximity of CD8+/PD-1+ and CK/PD-L1+ cells. FOXP3 and Macrophage rich phenotypes (3% and 4% of total samples) displayed relatively high levels of FOXP3+ regulatory T-cells and CD68+ macrophages, respectively. These phenotypes correlated with clinical outcomes, with immune-exclusion tumors showing an association with tumor relapse. When compared with prediction models built using routine pathological variables, models optimized with immune variables showed increased outcome prediction capacity (AUC = 0.89 versus 0.78) and stratification potential. The improved prediction capacity was independent of mismatch repair protein status and adjuvant radiotherapy treatment. Further, immunofluorescence results could be partially recapitulated using single marker immunohistochemistry (IHC) performed on whole tissue sections. TIL-rich tumours demonstrated increased CD8+ T-cells by IHC, while Immune-exclusion tumours displayed a lack of CD8+ T-cells and frequent expression of PD-L1 in tumour cells. Our results demonstrate the capability of the immune microenvironment to improve standard prediction tools in low-grade early-stage endometrial carcinomas. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Keywords:  Clinical outcome; Endometrial cancer; Immune-microenvironment; Low grade; Multiplex quantitative immunofluorescence; Prognosis
  11. J Oncol. 2022 ;2022 8570882
      Ovarian cancer has a higher resistance to chemotherapy, displaying the highest mortality rate among gynecological cancers. Recently, immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy is an effective treatment for selected patients. However, a low response rate for immune checkpoint treatment was observed for ovarian cancer patients. Therefore, it is necessary to identify ovarian cancer patients who might gain benefits from immune checkpoint treatment. Datasets containing ovarian cancer samples with mRNA-seq and clinical follow-up data were downloaded from different databases like The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO). The researchers applied the univariate analysis for selecting the immune checkpoint genes (ICGs) at a significance level of P < 0.05 as the candidate ICGs. The Spearman correlation coefficients were calculated to compare the correlation between tumor mutation burden and candidate ICGs, and the Kaplan-Meier plots were generated. They also assessed the external validation datasets and the results of immunohistochemical staining. 46 and 35 ICGs were extracted from the TCGA and GEO datasets, respectively, and we categorized the ICGs into 3 expression patterns. Nine (TCGA) and three (GEO) ICGs were significantly related to the prognosis. Univariate survival analysis indicated a significant prognostic relationship between the expression levels of ICOS, TIGIT, and TNFRSF8 and overall survival (OS). Moreover, the expression of ICOS and TIGIT also presented a significantly positive relationship with the CD8A expression. Importantly, patients with a higher CD8A and ICOS expression level (ICOS-H/CD8A-H) showed a better survival rate compared to other patients. Stratified analysis using TIGIT, TNFRSF8, and CD8A expression also showed an improved prognosis for the high TIGIT/high CD8A expression subgroup and the low TNFRSF8/low CD8A expression subgroup compared to the other subgroups. This study identified different immune subtypes that can predict the OS of ovarian cancer patients. This data could prove to be beneficial for making important clinical decisions and designing individual immunotherapeutic strategies.
  12. Methods Mol Biol. 2023 ;2577 39-51
      Reduced representation bisulfite sequencing (RRBS) enriches CpG-rich genomic regions using the MspI restriction enzyme-which cuts DNA at all CCGG sites, regardless of their DNA methylation status at the CG site-and enables the measurement of DNA methylation levels at 5% ~ 10% of all CpG sites in the mammalian genome. RRBS has been utilized in a large number of studies as a cost-effective method to investigate DNA methylation patterns, mainly at gene promoters and CpG islands. Here, we describe protocols for gel-free preparation of RRBS libraries, quality control, sequencing, and data analysis. Our protocols typically require nine cycles of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification to obtain a sufficient amount of library for sequencing when 100 ng of genomic DNA is used as a starting material; moreover, it takes 3 days to complete library preparation and quality control procedures for up to eight samples.
    Keywords:  DNA methylation; Methylome; MspI; Next-generation sequencing; Reduced representation bisulfite sequencing