Clinical Pathology - Theses

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    Genetic and Epigenetic Risk Factors for Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer
    Suman, Medha ( 2021)
    Invasive lobular breast cancer (ILBC) is the second most common histological subtype of breast cancer and accounts for 10-15% of all cases. Loss of e-cadherin protein is a hallmark of ILBC and contributes to its characteristic discohesive morphology. In addition to distinct histological features, several subtype-specific molecular and clinical features have been described. However, ILBC remains understudied relative to other breast cancer subtypes, despite its frequency. In this era of precision medicine, there is a growing interest in further refining breast cancer tumour subtyping by identifying additional discriminating molecular features. However, there is limited data to pursue this for ILBC as it is often not well-represented in study samples. For instance, the seminal work on breast cancer classification based on gene-expression levels by Perou et al., (2000) included only two ILBC cases. It is important to identify ways to refine the subtyping of ILBC tumours so that women with ILBC can benefit from a more precise treatment plan, prognosis and targeted therapy options. The main objectives of this PhD project were: i) to examine the distinguishing methylation patterns between ILBC (n=151) and non-ILBC (n=341) tumours ii) to investigate the ILBC methylome to identify methylation signatures for prognostication (n=130) and iii) to subclassify ILBC into subgroups with increased homogeneity based on their genome-wide DNA methylation profiles (ILBC, n=151, non-ILBC=341) and to further characterise these subgroups by investigating their somatic mutational signatures (n=15). Three subgroups of ILBC were defined via unsupervised cluster analysis of genome-wide DNA methylation measured using the Infinium HumanMethylation450K assay. Of these, Subgroup 1 was identified as the most distinct ILBC subgroup, characterised by a predominant hypomethylation across 27,675 CpGs compared with Subgroup 2 and across 13,067 CpGs compared with Subgroup 3. Subgroup 1 showed more similarity to the TNBC (non-ILBC) cases compared with the other two methylation-defined subgroups in terms of their genome-wide methylation pattern. Survival analysis showed that women with ILBC tumours in Subgroup 1 had the poorest overall survival when compared with women in Subgroup 2 (hazard ratio (HR): 0.59, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.19-1.79) and Subgroup 3 (HR: 0.16, 95% CI: 0.03-0.88), after adjusting for age and year of diagnosis. Subgroup 3 had an enrichment for women who had a first-degree relative with a history of any cancer. Both Subgroup 2 and Subgroup 3 were enriched with women who had a female relative with a history of breast cancer. This suggests that women in Subgroup 2 and Subgroup 3 may be genetically or epigenetically predisposed to developing breast cancer. The somatic genetic variant profiles of the ILBC DNA methylation-defined subgroups were further investigated by performing whole-exome sequencing (WES) on five ILBC tumours representing each of the three subgroups (n=15). The mismatch repair deficiency (MMRd) associated mutational signature SBS6 was the most frequently observed mutational signature in the ILBC tumours, detected in 12/15 (80%) cases. Microsatellite instability (MSI) was also predicted in 13/15 (87%) of the cases, including all 12 tumours with SBS6. Although distinct somatic (genetic) characteristics for tumours of individual subgroups were not observed, this research highlighted the potential role of MMRd in ILBC tumourigenesis and progression. DNA methylation of ILBC was also investigated as a possible prognostic biomarker. The analysis revealed 2,771 variably methylated regions within the ILBC tumours (n=130). A pooled survival analysis of the study set and TCGA data identified APC, TMEM101, HCG4P3 and CELF2 promoter methylation as potential prognostic biomarkers for women with ILBC. Comparing the DNA methylation profiles of ILBC (n=151) and non-ILBC (n=341) tumours, 13,763 genes and 8,456 intergenic regions showing statistically significant differences in DNA methylation (false discovery rate (fdr), P-value < 0.01) were identified. Gene set enrichment analysis revealed that the differentially methylated genes were found to be involved in biological pathways related to metabolism of RNA (R-HSA-8953854), mRNA processing (GO:0006397), RNA splicing (GO:0008380), cell cycle (R-HSA-1640170) and DNA repair (GO:0006281). This study brings together several lines of evidence to indicate that distinct molecular features of ILBC can enable further subtyping, identify important features for targeted therapies (e.g., MMRd) and provide additional information for prognostication. This research identified Subgroup 1 as an important subgroup with similarities to TNBC and more aggressive clinical behaviour. Further investigation of samples from Subgroup 1 may identify additional important targets for precision medicine.