Background: Epithelial to mesenchymal transition, and mimicking processes, contribute to cancer invasion and metastasis, and are known to be responsible for resistance to various therapeutic agents in many cancers. While a number of studies have proposed molecular signatures that characterize the spectrum of such transition, more work is needed to understand how the mesenchymal signature (MS) is regulated in non-epithelial cancers like gliomas, to identify markers with the most prognostic significance, and potential for therapeutic targeting.
Results: Computational analysis of 275 glioma samples from "The Cancer Genome Atlas" was used to identify the regulatory changes between low grade gliomas with little expression of MS, and high grade glioblastomas with high expression of MS. TF (transcription factor)-gene regulatory networks were constructed for each of the cohorts, and 5 major pathways and 118 transcription factors were identified as involved in the differential regulation of the networks. The most significant pathway - Extracellular matrix organization - was further analyzed for prognostic relevance. A 20-gene signature was identified as having prognostic significance (HR (hazard ratio) 3.2, 95% CI (confidence interval) = 1.53-8.33), after controlling for known prognostic factors (age, and glioma grade). The signature's significance was validated in an independent data set. The putative stem cell marker CD44 was biologically validated in glioma cell lines and brain tissue samples.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the differences between low grade gliomas and high grade glioblastoma are associated with differential expression of the signature genes, raising the possibility that targeting these genes might prolong survival in glioma patients.
Keywords: CD44; Computational modeling; Epithelial to mesenchymal transition; Glioma.