Transmembrane tyrosine-kinase Ephrin receptors promote tumor progression and/or metastasis of several malignancies including leukemia, follicular lymphoma, glioma, malignant pleural mesothelioma, papillary thyroid carcinoma, sarcomas and ovarian, breast, bladder and non-small cell lung cancers. They also drive intestinal stem cell proliferation and positioning, control intestinal tissue boundaries and are involved in liver, pancreatic and colorectal cancers, indicating involvement in additional digestive system malignancies. We investigated the role of Ephrin-B4 receptor (EPHB4), and its ligand EFNB2, in gastric and gastroesophageal junction cancers in patient cohorts through computational, mathematical, molecular and immunohistochemical analyses. We show that EPHB4 is upregulated in preneoplastic gastroesophageal lesions and its expression further increased in gastroesophageal cancers in several independent cohorts. The closely related EPHB6 receptor, which also binds EFNB2, was downregulated in all tested cohorts, consistent with its tumor-suppressive properties in other cancers. EFNB2 expression is induced in esophageal cells by acidity, suggesting that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may constitute an early triggering event in activating EFNB2-EPHB4 signaling. Association of EPHB4 to both Barrett's esophagus and to advanced tumor stages, and its overexpression at the tumor invasion front and vascular endothelial cells intimate the notion that EPHB4 may be associated with multiple steps of gastroesophageal tumorigenesis. Analysis of oncogenomic signatures uncovered the first EPHB4-associated gene network (false discovery rate: 7 × 10(-90) ) composed of a five-transcription factor interconnected gene network that drives proliferation, angiogenesis and invasiveness. The EPHB4 oncogenomic network provides a molecular basis for its role in tumor progression and points to EPHB4 as a potential tumor aggressiveness biomarker and drug target in gastroesophageal cancers.
Keywords: Ephrin receptor; genome-wide; oncogenic gene signature; tumor progression; tumor suppressor.
© 2015 UICC.