Clinical implications of ALDH1A1 and ALDH1A3 mRNA expression in melanoma subtypes

Chem Biol Interact. 2019 Dec 1:314:108822. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2019.108822. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity is not only a valuable marker for cancer cells with stem-like features, but also plays a vital role in drug resistance and disease progression in many tumors including melanoma. However, the precise role of ALDH activity in patient prognosis remains unclear. In this study, using the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) RNA-sequencing expression data, we analyzed gene expression of ALDH isozymes in melanoma tumors to define the expression patterns and the prognostic and predictive values of these enzymes. We found that ALDH1A1 and ALDH1A3 had both higher and broader expression ranges in melanoma patients, and that ALDH1A3 expression correlated with better overall survival in metastatic melanoma. Further, stratification of the TCGA cohorts by the mutational subtypes of melanoma specifically revealed that expression of ALDH1A3 correlated with better prognosis in metastatic BRAF-mutant melanoma while expression of ALDH1A1 correlated with better prognosis in BRAF wild-type melanoma. Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) of these cohorts identified upregulation in oxidative phosphorylation, adipogenesis, and fatty acid metabolism signaling in ALDH1Alo patients, suggesting BRAF/MEK inhibitor resistance in that subset of patients. On the other hand, GSEA of ALDH1A3hi cohorts revealed upregulation in glycolysis, hypoxia and angiogenesis, suggesting BRAF/MEK inhibitor sensitivity in that subset of patients. Gene expression analysis using pre-treatment tumor samples supports high ALDH1A3 expression before BRAF/MEK inhibitor treatment as predictive of better treatment response in BRAF-mutant melanoma patients. Our study provides evidence that high ALDH1A3 mRNA expression is not only a prognostic marker but also a predictive marker for BRAF/MEK inhibitor treatment response in BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma patients.

Keywords: ALDH1A1; ALDH1A3; BRAF/MEK inhibitor response; GSEA; Melanoma patient prognosis.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / genetics*
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 1 Family
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / genetics*
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Melanoma / metabolism
  • Melanoma / mortality
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 1 Family
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • ALDH1A1 protein, human
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase
  • aldehyde dehydrogenase (NAD(P)+)
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf