Resistance to chemotherapy poses a major clinical problem in the treatment of ovarian cancer. The efficacy of platinum- based chemotherapy relies on defective DNA repair mechanisms, and increased expression of homologous recombination (HR)/DNA repair genes in primary tumor samples is associated with improved chemoresponse. However, the effects of neo-adjuvant chemotherapy (NACT) on the expression DNA repair genes in cancer cells are poorly understood. In addition, high-grade serous ovarian cancers (HGSOCs) display significant inter- and intratumoral heterogeneity, and the identification of mechanisms of drug resistance has been hampered by the lack of data at the single cell resolution.

We collected 34 primary and 20 interval tumor samples from 15 patients treated for HGSOC at the Turku University Hospital, Finland. Tumor tissue total RNA was sequenced with Illumina HiSeq. For this study, we selected 363 genes selected due to their validated role in DNA repair pathways and compared their expression profiles between primary and interval samples. The treatment naïve primary tumor samples highly expressed genes related to HR, such as BRCA2, RAD54, PARPBP, FANCD2, and POLQ. Whereas after NACT the interval samples highly expressed genes regulating cell cycle, inflammatory response, and the drug efflux pump ABCB1. Moreover, higher expression of BRCA2 or POLQ in the interval samples correlated with poor primary therapy outcome (p<0.01).

To reveal the transcriptomics landscapes of treatment naïve and NACT treated HGSOCs at the single cell level, we performed single cell mRNA sequencing of primary and interval samples using the Fluidigm C1 Platform. Unsupervised clustering revealed eight distinct cell subpopulations, of which two clusters were annotated HGSOC cells based on enriched expression of cancer specific genes. In global gene expression analysis of 98 HGSOC cells, the most differentially expressed genes in primary HGSOC cells were heat shock proteins reflecting active protein synthesis. By contrast, the cancer cells from interval samples highly expressed genes regulating the cell cycle and immune response. Of the DNA repair pathway genes, the interval samples expressed lower levels of HES1, a transcription factor that is known to promote cancer progression and stemness.

The herein elucidated DNA repair pathway transcriptomics landscape at single-cell and whole tumor level provides novel targets for overcoming chemoresistance in HGSOC.

Citation Format: Anniina Farkkila, Kaiyang Zhang, Katja Kaipio, Tarja Lamminen, Rainer Lehtonen, Johanna Hynninen, Seija Grénman, Olli Carpén, Sampsa Hautaniemi, Anna Vähärautio. Single-cell transcriptomics reveals differential DNA repair signatures after chemotherapy in high-grade serous ovarian cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 1428. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-1428