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Single-nucleus and Spatially Resolved Intratumor Subtype Heterogeneity in Bladder Cancer

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Background: Current bulk transcriptomic classification systems for bladder cancer do not consider the level of intratumor subtype heterogeneity. Objective: To investigate the extent and possible clinical impact of intratumor subtype heterogeneity across early and more advanced stages of bladder cancer. Design, setting, and participants: We performed single-nucleus RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) of 48 bladder tumors and additional spatial transcriptomics for four of these tumors. Total bulk RNA-seq and spatial proteomics data were available from the same tumors for comparison, along with detailed clinical follow-up of the patients. Outcome measurements and statistical analysis: The primary outcome was progression-free survival for non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer. Cox regression analysis, log-rank tests, Wilcoxon rank-sum tests, Spearman correlation, and Pearson correlation were used for statistical analysis. Results and limitations: We found that the tumors exhibited varying levels of intratumor subtype heterogeneity and that the level of subtype heterogeneity can be estimated from both single-nucleus and bulk RNA-seq data, with high concordance between the two. We found that a higher class 2a weight estimated from bulk RNA-seq data is associated with worse outcome for patients with molecular high-risk class 2a tumors. The sparsity of the data generated using the DroNc-seq sequencing protocol is a limitation. Conclusions: Our results indicate that discrete subtype assignments from bulk RNA-seq data may lack biological granularity and that continuous class scores may improve clinical risk stratification of patients with bladder cancer. Patient summary: We found that several molecular subtypes can exist within a single bladder tumor and that continuous subtype scores can be used to identify a subgroup of patients with poor outcomes. Use of these subtype scores may improve risk stratification for patients with bladder cancer, which can help in making decisions on treatment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Urology Open Science
Pages (from-to)78-88
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)

    Research areas

  • Intratumor heterogeneity, Muscle-invasive bladder cancer, Non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer, RNA sequencing, Single-nucleus RNA sequencing, Spatial transcriptomics, Subtyping

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