Clinicopathological and Molecular Characteristics of Colorectal Signet Ring Cell Carcinoma: A Review

Pathol Oncol Res. 2021 Jul 26:27:1609859. doi: 10.3389/pore.2021.1609859. eCollection 2021.


Colorectal signet ring cell carcinoma (SRCC) is a rare subtype of colorectal cancer (CRC) with unique characteristics. Due to the limited researches on it, a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of this subtype is still lacking. In this article, we summarize the clinicopathological features and molecular characteristics of colorectal SRCC based on a literature review. Clinically, SRCC has been associated with young age, proximal site preference, advanced tumor stage, high histological grade, high rate of lymph node involvement, frequent peritoneal metastasis, and a significantly poor prognosis. Regarding molecular characteristics, in SRCC, the mutation burden of the classic signaling pathways that include WNT/β-catenin, RAS/RAF/MAPK, and PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathways are generally reduced. In contrast, some genes related to the "epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) process" and the "stem cell properties", including RNF43, CDH1, and SMAD4, as well as the related TGF-β signaling pathway have been observed more frequently altered in SRCC than in conventional adenocarcinoma (AC). In many studies but not in others, SRCC showed a higher frequency of BRAF mutation, microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) and CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) positive status compared to AC. It has been proposed that colorectal SRCC consists of two subtypes, in which the MSI+/CIMP+/BRAF +/CD3+/PD-L1+ hypermethylated genotype is more common in the proximal colon, and may represent the potential candidate for immunotherapy. Understanding the special molecular mechanisms related to the aggressive biology of SRCC is of great importance, which may provide a theoretical basis for the development of more targeted and effective treatments for this refractory disease.

Keywords: clinicopathology; colorectal cancer; molecular features; review; signet ring cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenomatous Polyposis Coli Protein / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Signet Ring Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Signet Ring Cell / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Signet Ring Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Signet Ring Cell / therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Prognosis
  • Rectum / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • APC protein, human
  • Adenomatous Polyposis Coli Protein