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Most colorectal cancers(CRCs) develop from either adenomas (ADs) or sessile serrated lesions (SSLs). The origins and molecular landscapes of these histologically distinct pre-cancerous polyps remain incompletely understood. Here, we present an atlas at single-cell resolution of sporadic conventional tubular/tubulovillous ADs, SSLs, hyperplastic polyps (HPs), microsatellite stable (MSS) and unstable (MSI-H) CRC, and normal colonic mucosa. Using single-cell transcriptomics and multiplex imaging, we studied 69 datasets from 33 participants. We also examined separate sets of 66 and 274 polyps for RNA and targeted gene sequencing, respectively. We performed multiplex imaging on a tissue microarray of 14 ADs and 15 CRCs, and we integrated pre-cancer polyp data with published single-cell and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) bulk CRC data to establish potential polyp-cancer relationships. Striking differences were observed between ADs and SSLs that extended to MSS and MSI-H CRCs, respectively, reflecting their distinct origins and trajectories. ADs arose from WNT pathway dysregulation in stem cells, which aberrantly expanded and expressed a Hippo and ASCL2 regenerative program. In marked contrast, SSLs were depleted of stem cell-like populations and instead exhibited a program of gastric metaplasia in the setting of elevated cytotoxic inflammation. Using subtype-specific gene regulatory networks and shared genetic variant analysis, we implicated serrated polyps, including some HPs conventionally considered benign, as arising from a metaplastic program in committed absorptive cells. ADs and SSLs displayed distinct patterns of immune cell infiltration that may influence their natural history. Our multi-omic atlas provides novel insights into the malignant potential of colorectal polyps and serves as a framework for precision surveillance and prevention of sporadic CRC.

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