Single sample expression-anchored mechanisms predict survival in head and neck cancer

PLoS Comput Biol. 2012 Jan;8(1):e1002350. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002350. Epub 2012 Jan 26.


Gene expression signatures that are predictive of therapeutic response or prognosis are increasingly useful in clinical care; however, mechanistic (and intuitive) interpretation of expression arrays remains an unmet challenge. Additionally, there is surprisingly little gene overlap among distinct clinically validated expression signatures. These "causality challenges" hinder the adoption of signatures as compared to functionally well-characterized single gene biomarkers. To increase the utility of multi-gene signatures in survival studies, we developed a novel approach to generate "personal mechanism signatures" of molecular pathways and functions from gene expression arrays. FAIME, the Functional Analysis of Individual Microarray Expression, computes mechanism scores using rank-weighted gene expression of an individual sample. By comparing head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) samples with non-tumor control tissues, the precision and recall of deregulated FAIME-derived mechanisms of pathways and molecular functions are comparable to those produced by conventional cohort-wide methods (e.g. GSEA). The overlap of "Oncogenic FAIME Features of HNSCC" (statistically significant and differentially regulated FAIME-derived genesets representing GO functions or KEGG pathways derived from HNSCC tissue) among three distinct HNSCC datasets (pathways:46%, p<0.001) is more significant than the gene overlap (genes:4%). These Oncogenic FAIME Features of HNSCC can accurately discriminate tumors from control tissues in two additional HNSCC datasets (n = 35 and 91, F-accuracy = 100% and 97%, empirical p<0.001, area under the receiver operating characteristic curves = 99% and 92%), and stratify recurrence-free survival in patients from two independent studies (p = 0.0018 and p = 0.032, log-rank). Previous approaches depending on group assignment of individual samples before selecting features or learning a classifier are limited by design to discrete-class prediction. In contrast, FAIME calculates mechanism profiles for individual patients without requiring group assignment in validation sets. FAIME is more amenable for clinical deployment since it translates the gene-level measurements of each given sample into pathways and molecular function profiles that can be applied to analyze continuous phenotypes in clinical outcome studies (e.g. survival time, tumor volume).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Cohort Studies
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Humans
  • ROC Curve