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Identification of a gene expression signature associated with brain metastasis in colorectal cancer

Marlies Michl
Francesco Taverna
Christine Woischke
Pan Li
Frederick Klauschen
Thomas Kirchner
Volker Heinemann
Michael von Bergwelt-Baildon
Arndt Stahler
Tobias Marcus Herold
Vindi Jurinovic
Jutta Engel
Jörg Kumbrink & Jens Neumann

March 17, 2024

Brain metastasis (BM) in colorectal cancer (CRC) is a rare event with poor prognosis. Apart from (K)RAS status and lung and bone metastasis no biomarkers exist to identify patients at risk. This study aimed to identify a gene expression signature associated with colorectal BM.

Three patient groups were formed: 1. CRC with brain metastasis (BRA), 2. exclusive liver metastasis (HEP) and, 3. non-metastatic disease (M0). RNA was extracted from primary tumors and mRNA expression was measured using a NanoString Panel (770 genes). Expression was confirmed by qPCR in a validation cohort. Statistical analyses including multivariate logistic regression followed by receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis were performed.

EMILIN3, MTA1, SV2B, TMPRSS6, ACVR1C, NFAT5 and SMC3 were differentially expressed in BRA and HEP/M0 groups. In the validation cohort, differential NFAT5, ACVR1C and SMC3 expressions were confirmed. BRA patients showed highest NFAT5 levels compared to HEP/M0 groups (global p = 0.02). High ACVR1C expression was observed more frequently in the BRA group (42.9%) than in HEP (0%) and M0 (7.1%) groups (global p = 0.01). High SMC3 expressions were only detectable in the BRA group (global p = 0.003). Only patients with BM showed a combined high expression of NFAT5, ACVR1C or SMC3 as well as of all three genes. ROC analysis revealed a good prediction of brain metastasis by the three genes (area under the curve (AUC)  = 0.78).

The NFAT5, ACVR1C and SMC3 gene expression signature is associated with colorectal BM. Future studies should further investigate the importance of this biomarker signature.