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The enrichment of Fanconi anemia/homologous recombination pathway aberrations in ATM/ATR-mutated NSCLC was accompanied by unique molecular features and poor prognosis.

BACKGROUND: ATM and ATR are two critical factors to regulate DNA damage response (DDR), and their mutations were frequently observed in different types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Given that the majority of identified ATM/ATR mutations were variants of uncertain significance, the clinical/molecular features of pathogenic ATM/ATR aberrations have not been comprehensively investigated in NSCLC.

METHODS: Next-generation sequencing (NGS) analyses were conducted to investigate the molecular features in 191 NSCLC patients who harbored pathogenic/likely pathogenic ATM/ATR mutations and 308 NSCLC patients who did not have any types of ATM/ATR variants. The results were validated using an external cohort of 2727 NSCLC patients (including 48 with ATM/ATR pathogenic mutations).

RESULTS: Most pathogenic ATM/ATR genetic alterations were frameshift and nonsense mutations that disrupt critical domains of the two proteins. ATM/ATR-mutated patients had significantly higher tumor mutational burdens (TMB; P < 0.001) and microsatellite instabilities (MSI; P = 0.023), but not chromosomal instabilities, than those without any ATM/ATR variations. In particular, KRAS mutations were significantly enriched in ATM-mutated patients (P = 0.014), whereas BRCA2 mutations (P = 0.014), TP53 mutations (P = 0.014), and ZNF703 amplification (P = 0.008) were enriched in ATR-mutated patients. Notably, patients with ATM/ATR pathogenic genetic alterations were likely to be accompanied by mutations in Fanconi anemia (FA) and homologous recombination (HR) pathways, which were confirmed using both the study (P < 0.001) and validation (P < 0.001) cohorts. Furthermore, the co-occurrence of FA/HR aberrations could contribute to increased TMB and MSI, and patients with both ATM/ATR and FA/HR mutations tended to have worse overall survival.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results demonstrated the unique clinical and molecular features of pathogenic ATM/ATR mutations in NSCLC, which helps better understand the cancerous involvement of these DDR regulators, as well as directing targeted therapies and/or immunotherapies to treat ATM/ATR-mutated NSCLC, especially those with co-existing FA/HR aberrations.

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