Survival analysis in biomedical sciences is generally performed by correlating the levels of cellular components with patients' clinical features as a common practice in prognostic biomarker discovery. While the common and primary focus of such analysis in cancer genomics so far has been to identify the potential prognostic genes, alternative splicing - a posttranscriptional regulatory mechanism that affects the functional form of a protein due to inclusion or exclusion of individual exons giving rise to alternative protein products, has increasingly gained attention due to the prevalence of splicing aberrations in cancer transcriptomes. Hence, uncovering the potential prognostic exons can not only help in rationally designing exon-specific therapeutics but also increase specificity toward more personalized treatment options. To address this gap and to provide a platform for rational identification of prognostic exons from cancer transcriptomes, we developed ExSurv (https://exsurv.soic.iupui.edu), a web-based platform for predicting the survival contribution of all annotated exons in the human genome using RNA sequencing-based expression profiles for cancer samples from four cancer types available from The Cancer Genome Atlas. ExSurv enables users to search for a gene of interest and shows survival probabilities for all the exons associated with a gene and found to be significant at the chosen threshold. ExSurv also includes raw expression values across the cancer cohort as well as the survival plots for prognostic exons. Our analysis of the resulting prognostic exons across four cancer types revealed that most of the survival-associated exons are unique to a cancer type with few processes such as cell adhesion, carboxylic, fatty acid metabolism, and regulation of T-cell signaling common across cancer types, possibly suggesting significant differences in the posttranscriptional regulatory pathways contributing to prognosis.
Keywords: cancer; exon expression; posttranscriptional regulation; splicing; survival.