Research Papers:

Expression of epithelial-mesenchymal transition-related genes increases with copy number in multiple cancer types

Min Zhao, Yining Liu and Hong Qu _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:24688-24699. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.8371

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Min Zhao1,*, Yining Liu1,*, Hong Qu2

1School of Engineering, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, Queensland, 4558, Australia

2Center for Bioinformatics, State Key Laboratory of Protein and Plant Gene Research, College of Life Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, P.R. China

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Hong Qu, e-mail: quh@mail.cbi.pku.edu.cn

Keywords: pan-cancer, copy number variation, cancer genomics, epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), gene expression

Received: October 08, 2015     Accepted: March 04, 2016     Published: March 25, 2016


Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a cellular process through which epithelial cells transform into mesenchymal cells. EMT-implicated genes initiate and promote cancer metastasis because mesenchymal cells have greater invasive and migration capacities than epithelial cells. In this pan-cancer analysis, we explored the relationship between gene expression changes and copy number variations (CNVs) for EMT-implicated genes. Based on curated 377 EMT-implicated genes from the literature, we identified 212 EMT-implicated genes associated with more frequent copy number gains (CNGs) than copy number losses (CNLs) using data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). Then by correlating these CNV data with TCGA gene expression data, we identified 71 EMT-implicated genes with concordant CNGs and gene up-regulation in 20 or more tumor samples. Of those, 14 exhibited such concordance in over 110 tumor samples. These 14 genes were predominantly apoptosis regulators, which may implies that apoptosis is critical during EMT. Moreover, the 71 genes with concordant CNG and up-regulation were largely involved in cellular functions such as phosphorylation cascade signaling. This is the first observation of concordance between CNG and up-regulation of specific genes in hundreds of samples, which may indicate that somatic CNGs activate gene expression by increasing the gene dosage.

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