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Evolution and clinical impact of genetic epistasis within EGFR-mutant lung cancers

The current understanding of tumorigenesis is largely centered on a monogenic driver oncogene model. This paradigm is incompatible with the prevailing clinical experience in most solid malignancies: monotherapy with a drug directed against an individual oncogenic driver typically results in incomplete clinical responses and eventual tumor progression1-7. By profiling the somatic genetic alterations present in over 2,000 cases of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide, we show that combinations of functional genetic alterations, i.e. genetic collectives dominate the landscape of advanced-stage disease. We highlight this polygenic landscape and evolution of advanced-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) through the spatial-temporal genomic profiling of 7 distinct tumor biopsy specimens and 6 plasma specimens obtained from an EGFR-mutant NSCLC patient at (1) initial diagnosis of early-stage disease, (2) metastatic progression, (3) sequential treatment and resistance to 2 EGFR inhibitors, (4) death. The comprehensive genomic analysis of this case, coupled with circulating free (cf) tumor DNA profiling of additional advanced-stage EGFR-mutant NSCLC clinical cohorts with associated treatment responses uncovered features of evolutionary selection for multiple concurrent gene alterations: including the presence of EGFR inhibitor-sensitive (EGFRL858R;EGFRexon19del) or inhibitor-resistant (EGFRT790M;EGFRC797S) forms of oncogenic EGFR along with cell cycle gene alterations (e.g. in CDK4/6, CCNE1, RB1) and activating alterations in WNT/β-catenin and PI3K pathway genes, which our data suggest can cooperatively impart non-redundant functions to limit EGFR targeted therapy response and/or promote tumor progression. Moreover, evidence of an unanticipated parallel evolution of both EGFR T790M and two distinct forms of oncogenic PIK3CA was observed. Our study provides a large-scale clinical and genetic dataset of advanced-stage EGFR-mutant NSCLC, a rationale for specific polytherapy strategies such as EGFR and CDK4/6 inhibitor co-treatment to potentially enhance clinical outcomes, and prompts a re-evaluation of the prevailing paradigm of monogenic-based molecular stratification for targeted therapy. Instead, our findings highlight an alternative model of genetic collectives that operate through epistasis to drive lung cancer progression and therapy resistance.

Click on a Dataset ID in the table below to learn more, and to find out who to contact about access to these data

Dataset ID Description Technology Samples
EGAD00001003769 Illumina HiSeq 2500 8
Publications Citations
Evolution and clinical impact of co-occurring genetic alterations in advanced-stage EGFR-mutant lung cancers.
Nat Genet 49: 2017 1693-1704