Background: Evaluation of mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency is conducted via immunohistochemistry or by microsatellite instability (MSI) analysis. Heterogeneous immunohistochemistry staining for MMR proteins may show different patterns; however, according to current guidelines, all of those patterns should be interpreted as MMR proficient. This conclusion might lead to false negative results because although most cases of heterogeneity stem from technical factors and biological variability, other types of heterogeneity represent true MMR deficiency.
Objectives: To identify a unique heterogeneity pattern that is associated with true MMR loss.
Methods: We analyzed 145 cases of colorectal carcinoma. Immunohistochemistry staining for MLH1, PMS2, MSH2, and MSH6 were performed. We defined geographic heterogeneity as areas of tumor nuclear staining adjacent to areas of loss of tumor nuclear staining with intact staining in the surrounding stroma. All cases were evaluated for the presence of geographic heterogeneity. In addition, 24 cases were also evaluated by MSI testing.
Results: Of the 145 cases, 24 (16.5%) were MMR deficient. Of the 24 cases for which MSI analysis was also available, 10 cases (41.7%) demonstrated biological heterogeneity, 5 (20.8%) demonstrated technical heterogeneity, and 2 (8.3%) demonstrated geographic heterogeneity. Only the two cases with geographic heterogeneity were MSI-high via MSI analysis. In addition, a germline mutation in MSH-6 was identified in one of these cases.
Conclusions: Geographic heterogeneity may raise a suspicion for a MMR-deficient case, which should be further analyzed using additional methodologies such as MSI analysis.