Identification of copy number variation-driven molecular subtypes informative for prognosis and treatment in pancreatic adenocarcinoma of a Chinese cohort

EBioMedicine. 2021 Dec;74:103716. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2021.103716. Epub 2021 Nov 25.


Background: Pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PAAD) is one of the most lethal carcinomas, and the current histopathological classifications are of limited use in clinical decision-making. There is an unmet need to identify new biomarkers for prognosis-informative molecular subtyping and ultimately for precision medicine.

Methods: We profiled genomic alterations for 608 PAAD patients in a Chinese cohort, including somatic mutations, pathogenic germline variants and copy number variations (CNV). Using the CNV information, we performed unsupervised consensus clustering of these patients, differential CNV analysis and functional/pathway enrichment analysis. Cox regression was conducted for progression-free survival analysis, the elastic net algorithm used for prognostic model construction, and rank-based gene set enrichment analysis for exploring tumor microenvironments.

Findings: Our data did not support prognostic value of point mutations in either highly mutated genes (such as KRAS, TP53, CDKN2A and SMAD4) or homologous recombination repair genes. Instead, associated with worse prognosis were amplified genes involved in DNA repair and receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) related signalings. Motivated by this observation, we categorized patients into four molecular subtypes (namely repair-deficient, proliferation-active, repair-proficient and repair-enhanced) that differed in prognosis, and also constructed a prognostic model that can stratify patients with low or high risk of relapse. Finally, we analyzed publicly available datasets, not only reinforcing the prognostic value of our identified genes in DNA repair and RTK related signalings, but also identifying tumor microenvironment correlates with prognostic risks.

Interpretation: Together with the evidence from genomic footprint analysis, we suggest that repair-deficient and proliferation-active subtypes are better suited for DNA damage therapies, while immunotherapy is highly recommended for repair-proficient and repair-enhanced subtypes. Our results represent a significant step in molecular subtyping, diagnosis and management for PAAD patients.

Funding: This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 81470894, 81502695, 81672325, 81871906, 82073326, 82103482 and 32170663), the Shanghai Sailing Program (grant number 20YF1426900), and the Program for Professor of Special Appointment (Eastern Scholar) at Shanghai Institutions of Higher Learning (awarded to H.F.).

Keywords: Copy number variations; DNA repair; Molecular subtyping; Pancreatic adenocarcinoma; Receptor tyrosine kinase signaling.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • China
  • Gene Amplification*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Humans
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Point Mutation
  • Prognosis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Unsupervised Machine Learning


  • Biomarkers, Tumor

Supplementary concepts

  • Pancreatic Carcinoma