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Response to PD-1 Blockade in Microsatellite Stable Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Harboring a POLE Mutation

Jun Gong, Chongkai Wang, Peter P. Lee, Peiguo Chu, and Marwan Fakih

Recent clinical evidence has demonstrated that microsatellite instability (MSI) or defective mismatch repair (MMR) and high tumor mutational load can predict response to the programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) receptor inhibitor pembrolizumab in metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC). Mutations in polymerase ε (POLE), a DNA polymerase involved in DNA replication and repair, contribute to an ultramutated but microsatellite stable (MSS) phenotype in colorectal tumors that is uniquely distinct from MSI tumors. This report presents the first case in the literature describing a clinical response to pembrolizumab in an 81-year-old man with treatment-refractory mCRC characterized by an MSS phenotype and POLE mutation identified on genomic profiling by next-generation sequencing. On tumor immunostaining, a large amount of CD8-positive tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) were present, with >90% of these expressing PD-1. More than 99% of PD-L1 expression was identified on nontumor cells in the tumor microenvironment that were close to the PD-1–positive CD8 TILs. mCRC tumors harboring POLE mutations represent a hypermutated phenotype that may predict response to anti–PD-1 therapy.