Whole-genome sequencing of phenotypically distinct inflammatory breast cancers reveals similar genomic alterations to non-inflammatory breast cancers

Xiaotong Li, Sushant Kumar, Arif Harmanci, Shantao Li, Robert R. Kitchen, Yan Zhang, Vikram B. Wali, Sangeetha M. Reddy, Wendy A. Woodward, James M. Reuben, Joel Rozowsky, Christos Hatzis, Naoto T. Ueno, Savitri Krishnamurthy, Lajos Pusztai, Mark Gerstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) has a highly invasive and metastatic phenotype. However, little is known about its genetic drivers. To address this, we report the largest cohort of whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of IBC cases. Methods: We performed WGS of 20 IBC samples and paired normal blood DNA to identify genomic alterations. For comparison, we used 23 matched non-IBC samples from the Cancer Genome Atlas Program (TCGA). We also validated our findings using WGS data from the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) and the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium. We examined a wide selection of genomic features to search for differences between IBC and conventional breast cancer. These include (i) somatic and germline single-nucleotide variants (SNVs), in both coding and non-coding regions; (ii) the mutational signature and the clonal architecture derived from these SNVs; (iii) copy number and structural variants (CNVs and SVs); and (iv) non-human sequence in the tumors (i.e., exogenous sequences of bacterial origin). Results: Overall, IBC has similar genomic characteristics to non-IBC, including specific alterations, overall mutational load and signature, and tumor heterogeneity. In particular, we observed similar mutation frequencies between IBC and non-IBC, for each gene and most cancer-related pathways. Moreover, we found no exogenous sequences of infectious agents specific to IBC samples. Even though we could not find any strongly statistically distinguishing genomic features between the two groups, we did find some suggestive differences in IBC: (i) The MAST2 gene was more frequently mutated (20% IBC vs. 0% non-IBC). (ii) The TGF β pathway was more frequently disrupted by germline SNVs (50% vs. 13%). (iii) Different copy number profiles were observed in several genomic regions harboring cancer genes. (iv) Complex SVs were more frequent. (v) The clonal architecture was simpler, suggesting more homogenous tumor-evolutionary lineages. Conclusions: Whole-genome sequencing of IBC manifests a similar genomic architecture to non-IBC. We found no unique genomic alterations shared in just IBCs; however, subtle genomic differences were observed including germline alterations in TGFβ pathway genes and somatic mutations in the MAST2 kinase that could represent potential therapeutic targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number70
JournalGenome Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Copy number variant
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Single nucleotide variant
  • Structural variant
  • Whole-genome sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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