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Genomic Profiling Reveals Spatial Intra-tumour Heterogeneity in Follicular Lymphoma

Follicular lymphoma (FL) is an incurable indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) that behaves heterogeneously and is synonymous with the reciprocal translocation t(14;18)(q32;q21), leading to aberrant constitutive over-expression of BCL2 [ref]. High risk groups with poor overall survival include patients that transform to a high grade lymphoma, most commonly diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) or progress early (within 2 years) of receiving treatment. Recently several studies have shed light on the diverse genomic landscape of FL, with frequently mutated genes including those involved in chromatin remodelling, (CREBBP, KMT2D, EZH2, EP300), immune modulation (TNFRSF14), JAK-STAT (STAT6, SOCS1), NF-ĸB (CARD11, MYD88, TNFAIP3) and mTORC1 signalling (RRAGC) [ref]. To date, the majority of these studies have either focussed on inter-patient genetic heterogeneity or established the extent of clonal heterogeneity as a patient’s tumour evolves over time. Furthermore, these temporal studies have alluded to the existence of a tumour-repopulating population (referred to as the common progenitor cell (CPC)) that evades treatment and acts as a reservoir, seeding each subsequent relapse and transformation event. Although these previous studies have illuminated the longitudinal clonal dynamics that occur in FL, our understanding of the degree of spatial or intra-tumour heterogeneity (ITH) that exists within an individual patient thus far remains limited. Earlier studies have predominantly focused on differences in cytological grade and immunophenotype between spatially separated lymph nodes and bone marrow, the most common site of extra-nodal involvement in FL, with genomic profiling restricted to examining somatic hypermutation patterns in IgVH genes [ref]. In contrast next generation sequencing has been increasingly utilised in solid organ malignancies to derive comprehensive genomic profiles from spatially separated sites. The seminal study by Gerlinger et al revealed profound differences in the genetic make-up between individual primary and metastatic sites of renal cell carcinoma [ref]. Significant heterogeneity has since been demonstrated both between and within lesions in the same patient in lung, pancreas and breast cancer with presumed driver mutations distributed within the “branches” of the evolutionary phylogenetic tree, suggesting that a single biopsy is incapable of capturing the full genomic heterogeneity of an individual’s malignancy [ref]. This geographical heterogeneity not only adds to the diverse pool of tumour subclones that may contribute to drug resistance mechanisms but importantly, presents a major obstacle for precision-based approaches focussed on targeting specific lesions within a single biopsy. In FL, the exponential increase in clinical trials using novel agents such as EZH2, PI3K and BTK inhibitors reflects this shift in cancer care and along with the development of molecular prognostic scores such as the m7-FLIPI highlights the clinical need to accurately define genomic alterations with clinical relevance. As the majority of FL patients manifest disseminated tumour involvement, we sought to uncover the extent and clinical importance of spatial heterogeneity in FL by comprehensively genetically profiling 22 synchronously removed spatially separated biopsies from 9 patients. Using a combination of whole exome and targeted deep sequencing, our results inferred the complex subclonal architecture within these tumours and the mutational differences between anatomical sites, demonstrating cases with significant intrinsic genetic diversity.

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Dataset ID Description Technology Samples
EGAD00001003553 Illumina HiSeq 2500 31