Evolution of intratumoral genetic heterogeneity during colorectal tumor progression has not been investigated so far. Multiple sample areas in colorectal adenocarcinoma at early and advanced stages and in metastases were studied for the well-known genetic alterations: K-ras and p53 point mutations and loss of heterozygosity (LOH) on chromosomes 5q and 18q. In primary colorectal cancers (CRCs), intratumoral genetic heterogeneity was more often observed in early than in advanced stages, at 90 and 67%, respectively. All but one of the advanced CRCs were composed of one predominant clone and other minor clones, whereas no predominant clone has been identified in half of the early cancers. At the early stage, the last events that were produced, the p53 mutation and LOH of 18q, were also the most heterogeneous. At the advanced stage, the LOH of 5q and 18q were the most frequent heterogeneous events (67 and 58%, respectively). The intratumoral heterogeneity for mutations was significantly reduced, from the early to the advanced stages (from 60 to 20% for K-ras and from 70 to 20% for p53). On the other hand, a quasi absence of intratumoral genetic heterogeneity was observed for K-ras and p53 in distant metastasis. In conclusion, colorectal adenocarcinomas are characterized by marked intratumoral genetic heterogeneity. A reduction of the intratumoral genetic heterogeneity for point mutations and a relative stability of the heterogeneity for allelic losses indicate that, during the progression of CRC, clonal selection and chromosome instability continue, while an increase cannot be proven.
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