Genomic analysis of cancer tissues is an essential aspect of personalized oncology treatment. Though it has been suggested that formalin fixation of patient tissues may be suboptimal for molecular studies, this tissue processing approach remains the industry standard. Therefore clinical molecular laboratories must be able to work with formalin fixed, paraffin embedded (FFPE) material. This study examines the effects of pre-analytic variables introduced by routine pathology processing on specimens used for clinical reports produced by next-generation sequencing technology. Tissue resected from three colorectal cancer patients was subjected to 2, 15, 24, and 48 hour fixation times in neutral buffered formalin. DNA was extracted from all tissues twice, once with uracil-N-glycosylase (UNG) treatment to counter deamination effects, and once without. Of note, deamination events at methylated cytosine, as found at CpG sites, remains unaffected by UNG. After extraction a two-step PCR targeted sequencing method was performed using the Illumina MiSeq and the data was analyzed via a custom-built bioinformatics pipeline, including filtration of reads with mapping quality T/A mutations that is not represented in DNA treated with UNG. This suggests these errors may be due to deamination events triggered by a longer fixation time. However the allelic frequency of these events remained below the limit of detection for reportable mutations in this assay (<2%). We do however recommend that suspected intratumoral heterogeneity events be verified by re-sequencing the same FFPE block.
Formalin fixation increases deamination mutation signature but should not lead to false positive mutations in clinical practice