Mutations in polymerase ε (POLE) confer favorable prognosis and outcomes in various cancer types, but their role in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is unknown. Utilizing the data of 513 patients with adenocarcinoma (LUAD) and 497 patients with squamous cell carcinoma (LUSC) from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) cohort, we tested the prognostic value of POLE mutations and programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression in the two main subtypes of NSCLC. POLE mutation is a favorable biomarker for the improved overall survival (OS) of the LUSC patients (P = 0.033, 28 mutant vs. 469 wildtype patients), but not that of the LUAD patients (P = 0.12, 31 mutant vs. 482 wildtype patients). POLE-mutant LUAD patients with high expression of PD-L1 (Mut-High, n = 6) exhibited improved OS (P = 0.024) when compared to POLE-mutant patients with low PD-L1 expression (Mut-Low, n = 24) and other patients without POLE mutation (n = 476). This benefit was not due to the high content of the tumor infiltrating lymphocytes. Instead, the antitumor immune response was activated in Mut-High patients so that these patients were likely responding more effectively to immuno-oncology (IO) treatments; whereas genes involved with metabolic pathways were enriched in Mut-Low group, which may cause the decreased OS of these patients. Our study sheds light on the molecular basis of NSCLC and adds to our understanding of responses to chemotherapy and IO therapy.
Keywords: Lung cancer adenocarcinoma; Lung cancer squamous cell carcinoma; Non-small cell lung cancer; Overall survival; PD-L1 expression; POLE mutation.