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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2010 Nov 15;78(4):1184-92. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2010.06.023.

A gene expression signature for chemoradiosensitivity of colorectal cancer cells.

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Department of General and Visceral Surgery, Georg-August-University, Göttingen, Germany.



The standard treatment of patients with locally advanced rectal cancers comprises preoperative 5-fluorouracil-based chemoradiotherapy followed by standardized surgery. However, tumor response to multimodal treatment has varied greatly, ranging from complete resistance to complete pathologic regression. The prediction of the response is, therefore, an important clinical need.


To establish in vitro models for studying the molecular basis of this heterogeneous tumor response, we exposed 12 colorectal cancer cell lines to 3 μM of 5-fluorouracil and 2 Gy of radiation. The differences in treatment sensitivity were then correlated with the pretherapeutic gene expression profiles of these cell lines.


We observed a heterogeneous response, with surviving fractions ranging from 0.28 to 0.81, closely recapitulating clinical reality. Using a linear model analysis, we identified 4,796 features whose expression levels correlated significantly with the sensitivity to chemoradiotherapy (Q <.05), including many genes involved in the mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathway or cell cycle genes. These data have suggested a potential relevance of the insulin and Wnt signaling pathways for treatment response, and we identified STAT3, RASSF1, DOK3, and ERBB2 as potential therapeutic targets. The microarray measurements were independently validated for a subset of these genes using real-time polymerase chain reactions.


We are the first to report a gene expression signature for the in vitro chemoradiosensitivity of colorectal cancer cells. We anticipate that this analysis will unveil molecular biomarkers predictive of the response of rectal cancers to chemoradiotherapy and enable the identification of genes that could serve as targets to sensitize a priori resistant primary tumors.

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