MYC Activity Inference Captures Diverse Mechanisms of Aberrant MYC Pathway Activation in Human Cancers

Mol Cancer Res. 2021 Mar;19(3):414-428. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-20-0526. Epub 2020 Nov 24.


c-MYC (MYC) is deregulated in more than 50% of all cancers. While MYC amplification is the most common MYC-deregulating event, many other alterations can increase MYC activity. We thus systematically investigated MYC pathway activity across different tumor types. Using a logistic regression framework, we established tumor type-specific, transcriptomic-based MYC activity scores that can accurately capture MYC activity. We show that MYC activity scores reflect a variety of MYC-regulating mechanisms, including MYCL and/or MYCN amplification, MYC promoter methylation, MYC mRNA expression, lncRNA PVT1 expression, MYC mutations, and viral integrations near the MYC locus. Our MYC activity score incorporates all of these mechanisms, resulting in better prognostic predictions compared with MYC amplification status, MYC promoter methylation, and MYC mRNA expression in several cancer types. In addition, we show that tumor proliferation and immune evasion are likely contributors to this reduction in survival. Finally, we developed a MYC activity signature for liquid tumors in which MYC translocation is commonly observed, suggesting that our approach can be applied to different types of genomic alterations. In conclusion, we developed a MYC activity score that captures MYC pathway activity and is clinically relevant. IMPLICATIONS: By using cancer type-specific MYC activity profiles, we were able to assess MYC activity across many more tumor types than previously investigated. The range of different MYC-related alterations captured by our MYC activity score can be used to facilitate the application of future MYC inhibitors and aid physicians to preselect patients for targeted therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Gene Amplification
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neuroblastoma / genetics
  • Neuroblastoma / metabolism
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / metabolism*
  • Survival Analysis


  • MYC protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc