Context: TGFBR1*6A is a common polymorphism of the type I transforming growth factor beta receptor (TGFBR1). Epidemiological studies suggest that TGFBR1*6A may act as a tumor susceptibility allele. How TGFBR1*6A contributes to cancer development is largely unknown.
Objectives: To determine whether TGFBR1*6A is somatically acquired by primary tumors and metastases during cancer development and whether the 3-amino acid deletion that differentiates TGFBR1*6A from TGFBR1 is part of the mature receptor or part of the signal sequence and to investigate TGFBR1*6A signaling in cancer cells.
Design, setting, and patients: Tumor and germline tissues from 531 patients with a diagnosis of head and neck, colorectal, or breast cancer recruited from 3 centers in the United States and from 1 center in Spain from June 1, 1994, through June 30, 2004. In vitro translation assays, MCF-7 breast cancer cells stably transfected with TGFBR1*6A, TGFBR1, or the vector alone, DLD-1 colorectal cancer cells that endogenously carry TGFBR1*6A, and SW48 colorectal cancer cells that do not carry TGFBR1*6A.
Main outcome measures: TGFBR1*6A somatic acquisition in cancer. Determination of the amino terminus of the mature TGFBR1*6A and TGFBR1 receptors. Determination of TGF-beta-dependent cell proliferation.
Results: TGFBR1*6A was somatically acquired in 13 of 44 (29.5%) colorectal cancer metastases, in 4 of 157 (2.5%) of colorectal tumors, in 4 of 226 (1.8%) head and neck primary tumors, and in none of the 104 patients with breast cancer. TGFBR1*6A somatic acquisition is not associated with loss of heterozygosity, microsatellite instability, or a mutator phenotype. The signal sequences of TGFBR1 and TGFBR1*6A are cleaved at the same site resulting in identical mature receptors. TGFBR1*6A may switch TGF-beta growth inhibitory signals into growth stimulatory signals in MCF-7 breast cancer cells and in DLD-1 colorectal cancer cells.
Conclusions: TGFBR1*6A is somatically acquired in 29.5% of liver metastases from colorectal cancer and may bestow cancer cells with a growth advantage in the presence of TGF-beta. The functional consequences of this conversion appear to be mediated by the TGFBR1*6A signal sequence rather than by the mature receptor. The results highlight a new facet of TGF-beta signaling in cancer and suggest that TGFBR1*6A may represent a potential therapeutic target in cancer.