A number of independent gene expression profiling studies have identified transcriptional subtypes in colorectal cancer (CRC) with potential diagnostic utility, culminating in publication of a CRC Consensus Molecular Subtype classification. The worst prognostic subtype has been defined by genes associated with stem-like biology. Recently, it has been shown that the majority of genes associated with this poor prognostic group are stromal-derived. We investigated the potential for tumor misclassification into multiple diagnostic subgroups based on tumoral region sampled.
We performed multi-region tissue RNA extraction/transcriptomic analysis using Colorectal Specific Arrays on invasive front, central tumor and lymph node regions selected from tissue samples from 25 CRC patients.
We identified a consensus 30 gene list which represents the intratumoral heterogeneity within a cohort of primary CRC tumors. Using a series of online datasets, we showed that this gene list displays prognostic potential (HR=2.914 (CI 0.9286-9.162) in stage II/III CRC patients, but in addition we demonstrated that these genes are stromal derived, challenging the assumption that poor prognosis tumors with stem-like biology have undergone a widespread Epithelial Mesenchymal Transition (EMT). Most importantly, we showed that patients can be simultaneously classified into multiple diagnostically relevant subgroups based purely on the tumoral region analysed.
Gene expression profiles derived from the non-malignant stromal region can influence assignment of CRC transcriptional subtypes, questioning the current molecular classification dogma and highlighting the need to consider pathology sampling region and degree of stromal infiltration when employing transcription-based classifiers to underpin clinical decision-making in CRC.