Medullary carcinoma of the colon: a distinct morphology reveals a distinctive immunoregulatory microenvironment

Mod Pathol. 2016 May;29(5):528-41. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2016.54. Epub 2016 Mar 11.


Medullary carcinoma of the colon is a unique histologic subtype of microsatellite unstable colorectal carcinoma but little is known regarding its tumor-immunoregulatory microenvironment. The aims of this study were to characterize the immune environment of medullary carcinoma and compare it with other microsatellite unstable and microsatellite stable colorectal carcinomas. An initial gene expression microarray analysis of six cases of medullary carcinoma was used to detect potentially differentially expressed genes. We extended this analysis utilizing genomic data from the Cancer Genome Atlas to compare eight cases of medullary carcinoma with other microsatellite unstable and stable carcinomas. Finally, we evaluated expression of key immune pathway proteins and lymphocyte subsets via immunohistochemistry of a large group of medullary carcinomas (n=105) and compared these findings with three other groups: poorly differentiated, microsatellite unstable well-differentiated and microsatellite stable well-differentiated carcinomas. Microarray and the Cancer Genome Atlas data analysis identified significant upregulation of several immunoregulatory genes induced by IFNγ including IDO-1, WARS (tRNA(trp)), GBP1, GBP4, GBP5, PDCD1 (PD-1), and CD274 (PD-L1) in medullary carcinoma compared with other microsatellite unstable and microsatellite stable tumors. By immunohistochemistry, IDO-1 was expressed in 64% of medullary carcinomas compared with 19% (9/47) of poorly differentiated carcinomas, 14% (3/22) of microsatellite unstable, and 7% (2/30) of the microsatellite stable well-differentiated carcinomas (P<0.0001). tRNA(trp) was overexpressed in 81% (84/104) of medullary carcinomas, 19% (9/47) of poorly differentiated, 32% (7/22) of microsatellite unstable, and 3% (1/30) of microsatellite stable well-differentiated carcinomas (P<0.0001). Medullary carcinoma had higher mean CD8+ and PD-L1+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes compared with all other groups (P<0.0001). This study demonstrates overexpression of several immunoregulatory genes in microsatellite unstable colorectal carcinomas and that expression of these genes and proteins is more prevalent in the medullary carcinoma subtype, which may be of use both diagnostically and therapeutically.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / pathology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology*