Clinical and epigenetic features of colorectal cancer patients with somatic POLE proofreading mutations

Takashi Kawai, Akihiro Nyuya, Yoshiko Mori, Takehiro Tanaka, Hiroaki Tanioka, Kazuya Yasui, Toshiaki Toshima, Fumitaka Taniguchi, Kunitoshi Shigeyasu, Yuzo Umeda, Toshiyoshi Fujiwara, Makoto Okawaki, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Ajay Goel, Takeshi Nagasaka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Mutations in the POLE gene result in an ultra-hypermutated phenotype in colorectal cancer (CRC); however, the molecular characterisation of epigenetic alterations remains unclear. We examined the genetic and epigenetic profiles of POLE-mutant CRC to elucidate the clinicopathological features of the associated genetic and epigenetic alterations. Results: Tumour tissues (1,013) obtained from a cohort of patients with CRC were analysed to determine associations between the proofreading domain mutations of POLE with various clinicopathological variables, microsatellite instability (MSI) status, BRAF and KRAS mutations, and the methylation status of key regions of MLH1, MGMT, and SFRP2 promoters by calculating the methylation scores (range 0–6). Only four cases (0.4%) exhibited pathogenic POLE hotspot mutations (two p.P286R [c.857C > G], one p.V411L [c.1231G > C], and p.S459F [c.1376C > T] each), which were mutually exclusive to BRAF and KRAS mutations and MSI. CRC patients were divided into four subgroups: patients with POLE mutations (POLE, 0.4%, n = 4), patients with both MSI and extensive methylation in MLH1 (MSI-M, 2.9%, n = 29), patients with MSI but no extensive methylation in MLH1 (MSI-U, 3.6%, n = 36), and patients without MSI (non-MSI, 93.2%, n = 944). The POLE group was younger at diagnosis (median 52 years, P < 0.0001), with frequent right-sided tumour localisation (frequency of tumours located in the right colon was 100%, 93.1%, 36.1%, and 29.9% in POLE, MSI-M, MSI-U, and non-MSI, respectively; P < 0.0001), and was diagnosed at an earlier stage (frequency of stages I–II was 100%, 72.4%, 77.8%, and 46.6% in POLE, MSI-M, MSI-U, and non-MSI, respectively, P < 0.0001). The mean methylation score in POLE was not different from that in MSI-U and non-MSI, but the methylation signature was distinct from that of the other subgroups. Additionally, although the examined number of POLE-mutant tumours was small, the number of CD8-positive cells increased in tumours with partial methylation in the MLH1 gene. Conclusions: CRC patients with POLE proofreading mutations are rare. Such mutations are observed in younger individuals, and tumours are primarily located in the right colon. Diagnosis occurs at an earlier stage, and distinct epigenetic alterations may be associated with CD8 cell infiltration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Colorectal cancer
  • MLH1
  • Methylation
  • Microsatellite instability
  • POLE

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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