Four Immune-Related Genes (FN1, UGCG, CHPF2 and THBS2) as Potential Diagnostic and Prognostic Biomarkers for Carbon Nanotube-Induced Mesothelioma

Int J Gen Med. 2021 Aug 29;14:4987-5003. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S324365. eCollection 2021.


Background: Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), a highly aggressive cancer, was mainly attributed to asbestos exposure. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) share similar negative features to asbestos, provoking concerns about their contribution to MPM. This study was used to identify genes associated with CNT-induced MPM.

Methods: Microarray datasets were available in the Gene Expression Omnibus database. The limma method was used to identify differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in CNT-exposed MeT5A cells (GSE48855) or mice (GSE51636). Weighted correlation network analysis (WGCNA) and protein-protein interaction (PPI) network construction were conducted to screen hub DEGs. The mRNA expression levels of hub DEGs were validated on MPM samples of GSE51024, GSE2549 and GSE42977 datasets, and their diagnostic efficacy was determined by receiver operating characteristic curve analysis. The prognostic values of hub DEGs were assessed using online tools based on The Cancer Genome Atlas data. Their functions were annotated by Database for Annotation, Visualization and Integrated Discovery (DAVID) enrichment and correlation with immune cells and markers.

Results: WGCNA identified that two modules were associated with disease status. Thirty-one common DEGs in the GSE48855 and GSE51636 datasets were overlapped with the genes in these two modules. Twenty of them had a high degree centrality (≥4) in the PPI network. Four DEGs (FN1, fibronectin 1; UGCG, UDP-glucose ceramide glucosyltransferase; CHPF2, chondroitin polymerizing factor 2; and THBS2, thrombospondin 2) could predict the overall survival, and they were confirmed to be upregulated in MPM samples compared with controls. Also, they could effectively predict the MPM risk, with an overall accuracy of >0.9. DAVID analysis revealed FN1, CHPF2 and THBS2 functioned in cell-ECM interactions; UGCG influenced glycosphingolipid metabolism. All genes were positively associated with infiltrating levels of immune cells (macrophages or dendritic cells) and the expression of the dendritic cell marker (NRP1, neuropilin 1).

Conclusion: These four immune-related genes represent potential biomarkers for monitoring CNT-induced MPM and predicting the prognosis.

Keywords: carbon nanotubes; diagnosis; malignant pleural mesothelioma; malignant transformation; prognosis; tumor-infiltrating immune cells.