BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Various classifications of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) based on RNA profiling resulted in two main subtypes. Kalimuthu and coworkers proposed a morphology-based classification that concurred with these subtypes. Immune therapy approaches in PDAC were so far disappointing. Morphologic PDAC subtypes may differ regarding key immune-oncology pathways. We aimed to examine the reproducibility and prognostic value of Kalimuthu's morphologic classification, and to evaluate differences between subtypes regarding gene expression related to tumor biology and immune-oncology.
METHODS: PDAC specimens from 196 patients were included, 108 consecutive chemotherapy-naïve surgical specimens and 88 endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine needle biopsies (EUS-FNBs). The specimens were evaluated as per Kalimuthu by two pancreatic pathologists, resulting in Group A and Group B tumors. Digital mRNA expression profiling was performed, on the surgical specimens using the NanoString IO360 panel of 770 key tumor biology related and 30 custom-genes, and on the EUS-FNBs using a targeted panel of 123 genes.
RESULTS: Morphologic subtyping reached substantial interobserver agreement between the two pathologists. In the surgical and EUS-FNB cohorts, 44.4% and 38.6% were Group A tumors, which were associated with improved survival. Group A showed higher expression of immune-related genes and cytokine/chemokine/interleukin signaling and Group B of genes related to cancer cell proliferation and cell cycle regulation. Hierarchical clustering based on significant differences in gene expression levels between Groups A and B revealed clusters with prognostic value.
CONCLUSIONS: Morphologic subtyping according to Kalimuthu is reproducible and holds prognostic value, in surgical as well as EUS-FNB specimens. As upregulation of immune-related genes was found in Group A, future studies should evaluate the potential of immune therapy approaches with special emphasis on this subtype of PDAC.