Systematic review and meta-analysis of prognostic microRNA biomarkers for survival outcome in nasopharyngeal carcinoma

PLoS One. 2019 Feb 8;14(2):e0209760. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0209760. eCollection 2019.


Background: Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), despite being one of the most malignant head and neck carcinomas (HNC), lacks comprehensive prognostic biomarkers that predict patient survival. Therefore, this systematic review and meta-analysis is aimed to evaluate the potential prognostic value of miRNAs as prognostic biomarkers in NPC.

Methods: PRISMA guidelines were used to conduct this systematic review and meta-analysis study. Permutations of multiple "search key-words" were used for the search strategy, which was limited to articles published between January 2012 and March 2018. The retrieved articles were meticulously searched with multi-level screening by two reviewers and confirmed by other reviewers. Meta-analysis was performed using Hazard Ratios (HR) and associated 95% Confidence Interval (CI) of survival obtained from previously published studies. Publication bias was assessed by Egger's bias indicator test and funnel plot symmetry.

Results: A total of 5069 patients across 21 studies were considered eligible for inclusion in the systematic review, with 65 miRNAs being evaluated in the subsequent meta-analysis. Most articles included in this study originated from China and one study from North Africa. The forest plot was generated using cumulated survival data, resulting in a pooled HR value of 1.196 (95% CI: 0.893-1.601) indicating that the upregulated miRNAs increased the likelihood of death of NPC patients by 19%.

Conclusion: To our knowledge, this is the first meta-analysis that examines the prognostic effectiveness of miRNAs as biomarkers in NPC patients. We noted that the combined effect estimate of HR across multiple studies indicated that increased miRNA expression in NPC potentially leads to poor overall survival. However, further large-scale prospective studies on the clinical significance of the miRNAs, with sizable cohorts are necessary in order to obtain conclusive results.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Nasopharynx / metabolism
  • Nasopharynx / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Survival Analysis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.