The tumor suppressor gene adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) is the initiating mutation in approximately 80% of all colorectal cancers (CRC), underscoring the importance of aberrant regulation of intracellular WNT signaling in CRC development. Recent studies have found that early-onset CRC exhibits an increased proportion of tumors lacking an APC mutation. We set out to identify mechanisms underlying APC mutation-negative (APCmut–) CRCs. We analyzed data from The Cancer Genome Atlas to compare clinical phenotypes, somatic mutations, copy number variations, gene fusions, RNA expression, and DNA methylation profiles between APCmut– and APC mutation-positive (APCmut+) microsatellite stable CRCs. Transcriptionally, APCmut– CRCs clustered into two approximately equal groups. Cluster One was associated with enhanced mitochondrial activation. Cluster Two was strikingly associated with genetic inactivation or decreased RNA expression of the WNT antagonist RNF43, increased expression of the WNT agonist RSPO3, activating mutation of BRAF, or increased methylation and decreased expression of AXIN2. APCmut– CRCs exhibited evidence of increased immune cell infiltration, with significant correlation between M2 macrophages and RSPO3. APCmut– CRCs comprise two groups of tumors characterized by enhanced mitochondrial activation or increased sensitivity to extracellular WNT, suggesting that they could be respectively susceptible to inhibition of these pathways.
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