Identification of specific susceptibility loci for the early-onset colorectal cancer

Genome Med. 2023 Mar 3;15(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s13073-023-01163-w.


Background: The incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer (EOCRC; patients < 50 years old) has been rising rapidly, whereas the EOCRC genetic susceptibility remains incompletely investigated. Here, we aimed to systematically identify specific susceptible genetic variants for EOCRC.

Methods: Two parallel GWASs were conducted in 17,789 CRC cases (including 1490 EOCRC cases) and 19,951 healthy controls. A polygenic risk score (PRS) model was built based on identified EOCRC-specific susceptibility variants by using the UK Biobank cohort. We also interpreted the potential biological mechanisms of the prioritized risk variant.

Results: We identified 49 independent susceptibility loci that were significantly associated with the susceptibility to EOCRC and the diagnosed age of CRC (both P < 5.0×10-4), replicating 3 previous CRC GWAS loci. There are 88 assigned susceptibility genes involved in chromatin assembly and DNA replication pathways, mainly associating with precancerous polyps. Additionally, we assessed the genetic effect of the identified variants by developing a PRS model. Compared to the individuals in the low genetic risk group, the individuals in the high genetic risk group have increased EOCRC risk, and these results were replicated in the UKB cohort with a 1.63-fold risk (95% CI: 1.32-2.02, P = 7.67×10-6). The addition of the identified EOCRC risk loci significantly increased the prediction accuracy of the PRS model, compared to the PRS model derived from the previous GWAS-identified loci. Mechanistically, we also elucidated that rs12794623 may contribute to the early stage of CRC carcinogenesis via allele-specific regulating the expression of POLA2.

Conclusions: These findings will broaden the understanding of the etiology of EOCRC and may facilitate the early screening and individualized prevention.

Keywords: Early-onset CRC; GWAS; Genetic variants; POLA2; PRS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Carcinogenesis*
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • Colorectal Neoplasms*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors