Background: Black breast cancer patients have p53 loss in 60% of their tumors, compared to 35% p53 loss in white breast cancer patients. The tumor suppressor p53 has pleiotropic effects on DNA repair, as it regulates both error prone and error-free DNA repair pathways. These effects on DNA repair represent molecular vulnerabilities that influence chemotherapy response, both directly and indirectly through the activation of immune responses. While studies have begun to elucidate DNA repair imbalance and immune response in human cancer, little is known about how these pathways differ by race. Methods: To study DNA repair and immune response in breast cancer, we performed gene expression analysis on FFPE samples from the Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS), a large population-based study that oversampled black and younger women. We curated a list of DNA repair genes representing regulators of error prone and error free DNA repair. Pathways included Nucleotide Excision Repair (NER), Fanconi Anemia (FA), Mismatch repair (MMR), Base Excision Repair (BER), Homologous Recombination (HR), Translesion Synthesis (TLS), Alternative End Joining (AEJ), Checkpoint, and APOBEC. In addition, we developed a 50-gene immune panel representing 12 individual immune cell types (B cells, T cells, Treg cells, T help cells, T follicular helper cells, CD8 T cells, NK cells, Eosinophils, Neutrophils, M1 & M2 Macrophages) and both adaptive and innate arms of the immune system. A total of 1464 patients (53% black, 53% under 50) were included in the current analysis. We used consensus clustering to identify groups of patients based on DNA repair gene expression and used linear regression to estimate the relative frequency differences between these classes and demographic and clinical characteristics. Results: We found that breast cancers grouped into four clusters based on DNA repair gene expression. One cluster, ‘Repair High’, represented 32% of the tumors, and had high expression of NER, NHEJ, HR, and FA genes, suggesting a broad DNA repair response. Another group, ‘HR/FA High’ represented 23% of the tumors and was enriched for high expression of HR and FA genes. An “APOBEC High” group consisted of 32% of the tumors and was enriched for high expression of APOBEC family genes (APOBEC3D, APOBEC1, APOBEC3A, APOBEC3H, APOBEC3B). Finally, 13% of tumors, had a ‘Heterogeneous Repair’ pattern of high expression of HR, NHEJ, and FA genes, but lower expression of NER genes. The HR/FA and Heterogeneous Repair groups were enriched for TP53 mutant-like tumors (93% vs. 5% and 61% vs. 38% Mutant vs. Wildtype respectively). In addition, the Heterogeneous Repair group was enriched for Hormone Receptor positive samples ([RFD] 8.2% (0.613, 15.3), 77% vs. 23% in positive vs. negative respectively), while the HR/FA High group was significantly enriched for TNBC ([RFD] HR/FA: 51.2% (45.1, 57.1), 75% vs. 25% TNBC vs. non-TNBC respectively). The Repair High group was the only group enriched for non-black race ([RFD]: 10.4% (4.0, 16.7), 42% vs. 58% in blacks vs. non-blacks respectively). Finally, DNA repair classes were associated with immune scores, with the APOBEC High tumors having a significantly higher Eosinophil score (p = 0.021) and Neutrophil score (p = 0.007) compared to the other four groups. Conclusion: DNA repair expression is highly variable across breast tumors and may depend upon TP53 status, tumor subtype, and race. Differential immune marker expression by DNA repair group suggests some DNA repair groups may have differential response to immune-targeted therapies. DNA repair, immune response, and race are inter-related in breast cancer and unraveling and ultimately targeting breast cancer disparities may require coordinated evaluation of these pathways.

Citation Format: Andrea Walens, Alina M Hamilton, Markia A Smith, Xiaohua Gao, Erin L Kirk, Stephen D Hursting, Katherine A Hoadley, Cyrus Vaziri, Melissa A Troester. Dna repair imbalance and immune response in breast cancer mortality disparities [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Virtual Symposium; 2020 Dec 8-11; San Antonio, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(4 Suppl):Abstract nr PS19-03.