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Lu, Can; Zhang, Xiaopeng; Schardey, Josefine; Wirth, Ulrich; Heinrich, Kathrin; Massiminio, Luca; Cavestro, Giulia Martina; Neumann, Jens; Bazhin, Alexandr V.; Werner, Jens; Kühn, Florian (2023): Molecular characteristics of microsatellite stable early-onset colorectal cancer as predictors of prognosis and immunotherapeutic response. npj Precision Oncology, 7 (1). ISSN 2397-768X

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The incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer (EO-CRC, in patients younger than 50) is increasing worldwide. The specific gene signatures in EO-CRC patients are largely unknown. Since EO-CRC with microsatellite instability is frequently associated with Lynch syndrome, we aimed to comprehensively characterize the tumor microenvironment (TME) and gene expression profiles of EO-CRC with microsatellite stable (MSS-EO-CRC). Here, we demonstrated that MSS-EO-CRC has a similar pattern of tumor-infiltrating immune cells, immunotherapeutic responses, consensus molecular subtypes, and prognosis as late-onset CRC with MSS (MSS-LO-CRC). 133 differential expressed genes were identified as unique gene signatures of MSS-EO-CRC. Moreover, we established a risk score, which was positively associated with PD-L1 expression and could reflect both the level of tumor-infiltrating immune cells and the prognosis of MSS-EO-CRC patients. Application of this score on the anti-PD-L1 treatment cohort demonstrated that the low-risk score group has significant therapeutic advantages and clinical benefits. In addition, candidate driver genes were identified in the different-sidedness of MSS-EO-CRC patients. Altogether, MSS-EO-CRC exhibits distinct molecular profiles that differ from MSS-LO-CRC even though they have a similar TME characterization and survival pattern. Our risk score appears to be robust enough to predict prognosis and immunotherapeutic response and therefore could help to optimize the treatment of MSS-EO-CRC.

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