Mismatch repair (MMR) testing on all new cases of colorectal cancer (CRC) has customarily been preferably performed on surgical specimens, as more tissue is available; however, new clinical trials for the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors in the neoadjuvant setting require MMR testing on biopsy samples. This study aims at identifying advantages, disadvantages and any potential pitfalls in MMR evaluation on biopsy tissue and how to cope with them. The study is prospective-retrospective, recruiting 141 biopsies (86 proficient (p)MMR and 55 deficient (d)MMR) and 97 paired surgical specimens (48 pMMR; 49 dMMR). In biopsy specimens, a high number of indeterminate stains was observed, in particular for MLH1 (31 cases, 56.4%). The main reasons were a punctate nuclear expression of MLH1, relatively weak MLH1 nuclear expression compared to internal controls, or both (making MLH1 loss difficult to interpret), which was solved by reducing primary incubation times for MLH1. A mean of ≥ 5 biopsies had adequate immunostains, compared to ≤ 3 biopsies in inadequate cases. Conversely, surgical specimens rarely suffered from indeterminate reactions, while weaker staining intensity (p < 0.007) for MLH1 and PMS2 and increased patchiness grade (p < 0.0001) were seen. Central artefacts were almost exclusive to surgical specimens. MMR status classification was possible in 92/97 matched biopsy/resection specimen cases, and all of these were concordant (47 pMMR and 45 dMMR). Evaluation of MMR status on CRC biopsy samples is feasible, if pitfalls in interpretation are known, making laboratory-specific appropriate staining protocols fundamental for high-quality diagnoses.
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