Re-Evaluate Fusion Genes in Prostate Cancer

Cancer Inform. 2021 Jun 21:20:11769351211027592. doi: 10.1177/11769351211027592. eCollection 2021.


Background: Thousands of gene fusions have been reported in prostate cancer, but their authenticity, incidence, and tumor specificity have not been thoroughly evaluated, nor have their genomic characteristics been carefully explored.

Methods: We developed FusionVet to dedicatedly validate known fusion genes using RNA-seq alignments. Using FusionVet, we re-assessed 2727 gene fusions reported from 36 studies using the RNA-seq data generated by The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). We also explored their genomic characteristics and interrogated the transcriptomic and DNA methylomic consequences of the E26 transformation-specific (ETS) fusions.

Results: We found that nearly two-thirds of reported fusions are intra-chromosomal, and 80% of them were formed between 2 protein-coding genes. Although most (76%) genes were fused to only 1 partner, we observed many fusion hub genes that have multiple fusion partners, including ETS family genes, androgen receptor signaling pathway genes, tumor suppressor genes, and proto-oncogenes. More than 90% of the reported fusions cannot be validated by TCGA RNA-seq data. For those fusions that can be validated, 5% were detected from tumor and normal samples with similar frequencies, and only 4% (120 fusions) were tumor-specific. The occurrences of ERG, ETV1, and ETV4 fusions were mutually exclusive, and their fusion statuses were tightly associated with overexpressions. Besides, we found ERG fusions were significantly co-occurred with PTEN deletion but mutually exclusive with common genomic alterations such as SPOP mutation and FOXA1 mutation.

Conclusions: Most of the reported fusion genes cannot be validated by TCGA samples. The ETS family and androgen response genes were significantly enriched in prostate cancer-specific fusion genes. Transcription activity was significantly repressed, and the DNA methylation was significantly increased in samples carrying ERG fusion.

Keywords: Prostate cancer; TMPRSS2-ERG; fusion gene; gene fusion; meta-analysis.