APOBEC Mutagenesis as a Driver of Tumor Evolution through Genetic Heterogeneity and Immunogenicity

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The APOBEC (apolipoprotein B mRNA editing enzyme, catalytic polypeptide-like) family of cytidine deaminases is one of the most common endogenous sources of single base substitution mutations in human cancer. Accordingly, APOBEC enzymes represent a major source of intratumor genetic heterogeneity and have been associated with immunotherapy response in diverse cancer types. However, the consequences of APOBEC mutagenesis on tumor progression in vivo are not well understood. To address this, I developed several murine tumor models with inducible APOBEC3B expression and studied the contribution of APOBEC activity to tumor evolution and immunogenicity. First, I explored the effects of APOBEC activity on tumor relapse using a murine model of mammary tumor recurrence. APOBEC activity led to a significant acceleration in tumor recurrence following the strong selective pressure of oncogenic driver signaling loss. Recurrent APOBEC tumors had undifferentiated histological features and large, irregularly shaped nuclei containing defects like micronuclei, multinucleation, and chromatin bridges. I found that recurrent APOBEC tumors amplified the therapy resistance-associated oncogene, c-Met, on circular extrachromosomal DNA, likely driving the proliferation of the recurrent cancer cells. Second, because APOBEC mutational signatures are enriched in the majority of HER2-positive breast cancer patients, I used a syngeneic HER2-driven mammary tumor model to study the effects of APOBEC activity on the tumor immune microenvironment. I found that APOBEC activity induced an antitumor adaptive immune response and CD4+ T cell-mediated tumor growth inhibition. While polyclonal APOBEC tumors had a moderate growth defect, clonal APOBEC tumors were almost completely rejected by the immune system, suggesting that APOBEC-mediated genetic heterogeneity limits the antitumor adaptive immune response. In human breast cancers, the relationship between APOBEC mutagenesis and immunogenicity varied by breast cancer subtype and the frequency of subclonal mutations. Consistent with the observed immune infiltration in murine APOBEC tumors, APOBEC activity sensitized HER2-driven breast tumors to checkpoint inhibition. This work provides a mechanistic basis for the sensitivity of APOBEC tumors to checkpoint inhibitors and suggests a rationale for using APOBEC mutational signatures and clonality as biomarkers predicting immunotherapy response in HER2-positive breast cancers. In conclusion, I’ve identified a novel role for APOBEC activity in generating chromosomal instability, consisting of mitotic errors, oncogene amplification, and extrachromosomal DNA formation to promote tumor recurrence. Moreover, APOBEC activity also stimulated an antitumor adaptive immune response and sensitized tumors to immunotherapy.





DiMarco, Ashley (2021). APOBEC Mutagenesis as a Driver of Tumor Evolution through Genetic Heterogeneity and Immunogenicity. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23796.


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