The heritability of colorectal cancer (CRC) is incompletely understood, and the contribution of undiscovered rare variants may be important. In search of rare disease-causing variants, we exome sequenced 22 CRC patients who were diagnosed before the age of 40 years. Exome sequencing data from 95 familial CRC patients were available as a validation set. Cases with known CRC syndromes were excluded. All patients were from Finland, a country known for its genetically homogenous population. We searched for rare nonsynonymous variants with allele frequencies below 0.1% in 3,374 Finnish and 58,112 non-Finnish controls. In addition, homozygous and compound heterozygous variants were studied. No genes with rare loss-of-function variants were present in more than one early-onset CRC patient. Three genes (ADAMTS4, CYTL1, and SYNE1) harbored rare loss-of-function variants in both early-onset and familial CRC cases. Five genes with homozygous variants in early-onset CRC cases were found (MCTP2, ARHGAP12, ATM, DONSON, and ROS1), including one gene (MCTP2) with a homozygous splice site variant. All discovered homozygous variants were exclusive to one early-onset CRC case. Independent replication is required to associate the discovered variants with CRC. These findings, together with a lack of family history in 19 of 22 (86%) early-onset patients, suggest genetic heterogeneity in unexplained early-onset CRC patients, thus emphasizing the requirement for large sample sizes and careful study designs to elucidate the role of rare variants in CRC susceptibility.
Keywords: Genetic predisposition to disease; age of onset; colorectal neoplasms; exome sequencing.
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