POLE, POLD1, and NTHL1: the last but not the least hereditary cancer-predisposing genes

Oncogene. 2021 Oct;40(40):5893-5901. doi: 10.1038/s41388-021-01984-2. Epub 2021 Aug 6.


POLE, POLD1, and NTHL1 are involved in DNA replication and have recently been recognized as hereditary cancer-predisposing genes, because their alterations are associated with colorectal cancer and other tumors. POLE/POLD1-associated syndrome shows an autosomal dominant inheritance, whereas NTHL1-associated syndrome follows an autosomal recessive pattern. Although the prevalence of germline monoallelic POLE/POLD1 and biallelic NTHL1 pathogenic variants is low, they determine different phenotypes with a broad tumor spectrum overlapping that of other hereditary conditions like Lynch Syndrome or Familial Adenomatous Polyposis. Endometrial and breast cancers, and probably ovarian and brain tumors are also associated with POLE/POLD1 alterations, while breast cancer and other unusual tumors are correlated with NTHL1 pathogenic variants. POLE-mutated colorectal and endometrial cancers are associated with better prognosis and may show favorable responses to immunotherapy. Since POLE/POLD1-mutated tumors show a high tumor mutational burden producing an increase in neoantigens, the identification of POLE/POLD1 alterations could help select patients suitable for immunotherapy treatment. In this review, we will investigate the role of POLE, POLD1, and NTHL1 genetic variants in cancer predisposition, discussing the potential future therapeutic applications and assessing the utility of performing a routine genetic testing for these genes, in order to implement prevention and surveillance strategies in mutation carriers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Polymerase II / metabolism*
  • DNA Polymerase III / metabolism*
  • Deoxyribonuclease (Pyrimidine Dimer) / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Poly-ADP-Ribose Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • Poly-ADP-Ribose Binding Proteins
  • POLD1 protein, human
  • DNA Polymerase II
  • DNA Polymerase III
  • POLE protein, human
  • Deoxyribonuclease (Pyrimidine Dimer)
  • NTHL1 protein, human