To chart cell composition and cell state changes that occur during the transformation of healthy colon to precancerous adenomas to colorectal cancer (CRC), we generated single-cell chromatin accessibility profiles and single-cell transcriptomes from 1,000 to 10,000 cells per sample for 48 polyps, 27 normal tissues and 6 CRCs collected from patients with or without germline APC mutations. A large fraction of polyp and CRC cells exhibit a stem-like phenotype, and we define a continuum of epigenetic and transcriptional changes occurring in these stem-like cells as they progress from homeostasis to CRC. Advanced polyps contain increasing numbers of stem-like cells, regulatory T cells and a subtype of pre-cancer-associated fibroblasts. In the cancerous state, we observe T cell exhaustion, RUNX1-regulated cancer-associated fibroblasts and increasing accessibility associated with HNF4A motifs in epithelia. DNA methylation changes in sporadic CRC are strongly anti-correlated with accessibility changes along this continuum, further identifying regulatory markers for molecular staging of polyps.
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