Approximately 20% of colorectal cancer patients with colorectal adenocarcinomas present with metastases at the time of diagnosis, and therapies that specially target these metastases are lacking. We present a novel approach for investigating transcriptomic differences between primary colorectal adenocarcinoma and distant metastases, which may help to identify primary tumors with high risk for future dissemination and to inform the development of metastasis-targeted therapies. To effectively compare the transcriptomes of primary colorectal adenocarcinoma and metastatic lesions at both the gene and pathway levels, we eliminated tissue specificity of the "host" organs where tumors are located and adjusted for confounders such as exposure to chemotherapy and radiation, and identified that metastases were characterized by reduced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) but increased MYC target and DNA-repair pathway activities. FBN2 and MMP3 were the most differentially expressed genes between primary tumors and metastases. The two subtypes of colorectal adenocarcinoma metastases that were identified, EMT inflammatory and proliferative, were distinct from the consensus molecular subtype (CMS) 3, suggesting subtype exclusivity. In summary, this study highlights transcriptomic differences between primary tumors and colorectal adenocarcinoma metastases and delineates pathways that are activated in metastases that could be targeted in colorectal adenocarcinoma patients with metastatic disease. SIGNIFICANCE: These findings identify a colorectal adenocarcinoma metastasis-specific gene-expression signature that is free from potentially confounding background signals coming from treatment exposure and the normal host tissue that the metastasis is now situated within.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.