Background: Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-I) signalling is important for cancer initiation and progression. Given the emerging evidence for the role of the stroma in these processes, we aimed to characterize the effects of IGF-I on cancer cells and stromal cells separately.
Methods: We used an ex vivo culture model and measured gene expression changes after IGF-I stimulation with cDNA microarrays. In vitro data were correlated with in vivo findings by comparing the results with published expression datasets on human cancer biopsies.
Results: Upon stimulation with IGF-I, breast cancer cells and stromal fibroblasts show some common and other distinct response patterns. Among the up-regulated genes in the stromal fibroblasts we observed a significant enrichment in proliferation associated genes. The expression of the IGF-I induced genes was coherent and it provided a basis for the segregation of the patients into two groups. Patients with tumours with highly expressed IGF-I induced genes had a significantly lower survival rate than patients whose tumours showed lower levels of IGF-I induced gene expression (P = 0.029 - Norway/Stanford and P = 7.96e-09 - NKI dataset). Furthermore, based on an IGF-I induced gene expression signature derived from primary lung fibroblasts, a separation of prognostically different lung cancers was possible (P = 0.007 - Bhattacharjee and P = 0.008 - Garber dataset).
Conclusion: Expression patterns of genes induced by IGF-I in primary breast and lung fibroblasts accurately predict outcomes in breast and lung cancer patients. Furthermore, these IGF-I induced gene signatures derived from stromal fibroblasts might be promising predictors for the response to IGF-I targeted therapies. See the related commentary by Werner and Bruchim: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/8/2.