BACKGROUND: Analysis of deficiency in DNA mismatch repair (dMMR) is currently considered a standard molecular test in all patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) for its implications in screening, prognosis and prediction of benefit from immune checkpoint inhibitors. While the molecular heterogeneity of CRC has been extensively studied in recent years, specific data on dMMR status are lacking, and its clinical consequences are unknown.
CASE PRESENTATION: We report the case of a metastatic CRC (mCRC) patient with immunohistochemical and molecular heterogeneity in dMMR/microsatellite instability status in the primary tumour. The patient was treated with nivolumab plus ipilimumab and achieved a deep and lasting response with clear clinical benefit. Whole-exome sequencing and RNA-seq data are reported to support the evidence for molecular heterogeneity. Re-biopsy at the time of progression ruled out the selection of MMR proficient clones as an escape mechanism. A large single-institution retrospective dataset was interrogated to further explore the real incidence of heterogeneity in its different presentations.
CONCLUSIONS: The present case supports the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibition in mCRC with heterogeneity in MMR/microsatellite instability status. Clinical issues that may arise in these rare patients are discussed in detail.