Exploring the Significance of the Exon 4-Skipping Isoform of the ZNF217 Oncogene in Breast Cancer

Front Oncol. 2021 Jul 2;11:647269. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.647269. eCollection 2021.


Oncogene alternative splicing events can create distinct functional transcripts that offer new candidate prognostic biomarkers for breast cancer. ZNF217 is a well-established oncogene but its exon 4-skipping isoform (ZNF217-ΔE4) has never been investigated in terms of clinical or biological relevance. Using in silico RNA-seq and RT-qPCR analyses, we demonstrated for the first time the existence of ZNF217-ΔE4 transcripts in primary breast tumors, and a positive correlation between ZNF217-ΔE4 mRNA levels and those of the wild-type oncogene (ZNF217-WT). A pilot retrospective analysis revealed that, in the Luminal subclass, the combination of the two ZNF217 variants (the ZNF217-ΔE4-WT gene-expression signature) provided more information than the mRNA expression levels of each isoform alone. Ectopic overexpression of ZNF217-ΔE4 in breast cancer cells promoted an aggressive phenotype and an increase in ZNF217-WT expression levels that was inversely correlated with DNA methylation of the ZNF217 gene. This study provides new insights into the possible role of the ZNF217-ΔE4 splice variant in breast cancer and suggests a close interplay between the ZNF217-WT and ZNF217-ΔE4 isoforms. Our data suggest that a dual signature combining the expression levels of these two isoforms may serve as a novel prognostic biomarker allowing better stratification of breast cancers with good prognosis and aiding clinicians in therapeutic decisions.

Keywords: ZNF217; breast cancer; isoform; prognosis; splice variant.