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The case for a genetic predisposition to serrated neoplasia in the colorectum: hypothesis and review of the literature.

In recent years, an alternative pathway of colorectal cancer development has been described in which serrated polyps replace the traditional adenoma as the precursor lesion. Importantly, serrated polyps and a subset of colorectal cancer show largely nonoverlapping mutation profiles to those found in adenomas and the majority of colorectal cancer. These genetic alterations include activating mutation of the BRAF proto-oncogene and widespread gene promoter hypermethylation (CpG island methylator phenotype or CIMP). Up to 15% of colorectal cancer is likely to develop on the basis of a strong genetic predisposition. The two most well-characterized syndromes, familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome), both develop via the adenoma-carcinoma pathway and together account for approximately one third of familial colorectal cancer. We have recently described 11 families in which there is evidence that the genetic predisposition to autosomal dominant colorectal cancer is linked to the serrated pathway. This condition, serrated pathway syndrome, and the related condition, hyperplastic polyposis, the presentation of which suggests a recessive mode of inheritance, represent two syndromes in which BRAF mutation and methylation co-occur within serrated precursor lesions. Further, CIMP is observed in the normal colonic mucosa of individuals with hyperplastic polyposis consistent with a field defect in epigenetic regulation. The spectrum of serrated neoplasia may also implicate the apparently sporadic and later onset subset of colorectal cancer with high levels of microsatellite instability. The tendency for these lesions to be multiple, associated with smoking, and to show frequent BRAF mutation and CIMP points to a defect that may result from interactions between the environment and a weakly penetrant genetic alteration.

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