Intratumor morphologic and transcriptomic heterogeneity in V600EBRAF-mutated metastatic colorectal adenocarcinomas

ESMO Open. 2021 Aug;6(4):100211. doi: 10.1016/j.esmoop.2021.100211. Epub 2021 Jul 13.


Background: Intratumor heterogeneity (ITH) is described as the presence of various clones within one tumor, each with their own unique features in terms of morphology, inflammation, genetics or transcriptomics. Heterogeneity provides the fuel for drug resistance; therefore, an accurate assessment of tumor heterogeneity is essential for the development of effective therapies. The purpose of this study was to dissect morphologic and molecular ITH in colorectal adenocarcinoma.

Materials and methods: A series of 120 V600EBRAF-mutated (V600EBRAFmt) consecutive metastatic colorectal adenocarcinomas was assessed for morphologic heterogeneity. The two heterogeneous components of each specimen underwent a histopathological, immunohistochemical and molecular characterization to evaluate: histologic variant, grading, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), mismatch repair proteins' expression, KRAS/BRAF/NRAS mutations, microsatellite instability (MSI) status and consensus molecular subtype (CMS).

Results: Thirty-one out of 120 (25.8%) V600EBRAFmt primary colorectal adenocarcinomas presented a heterogeneous morphology. Among these, eight cases had adequate material for molecular profiling. Five out of the eight (62.5%) cases resulted instable at MSI testing. The majority (62.5%) of the samples showed a CMS4 phenotype based on gene expression profiling. Heterogeneity in CMS classification was observed in four out of eight cases. One out of eight cases presented significant heterogeneity in the number of TILs between the two components of the tumor.

Conclusions: Although the distribution of the immune infiltrate appears relatively conserved among heterogeneous areas of the same tumor, changes in gene expression profile and CMS occur in 50% of V600EBRAFmt adenocarcinoma cases in our small series and might contribute to variability in response to anticancer therapy and clinical outcomes. Assessment of morphological and molecular ITH is needed to improve colorectal cancer classification and to tailor anticancer treatments and should be included in the pathology report.

Keywords: (V600E)BRAF-mutated colorectal cancer; consensus molecular subtypes; gene expression profiling; morphologic heterogeneity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Microsatellite Instability
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Transcriptome / genetics


  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf