Transcriptomic profiling in canines and humans reveals cancer specific gene modules and biological mechanisms common to both species

PLoS Comput Biol. 2021 Sep 27;17(9):e1009450. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009450. eCollection 2021 Sep.


Understanding relationships between spontaneous cancer in companion (pet) canines and humans can facilitate biomarker and drug development in both species. Towards this end we developed an experimental-bioinformatic protocol that analyzes canine transcriptomics data in the context of existing human data to evaluate comparative relevance of canine to human cancer. We used this protocol to characterize five canine cancers: melanoma, osteosarcoma, pulmonary carcinoma, B- and T-cell lymphoma, in 60 dogs. We applied an unsupervised, iterative clustering method that yielded five co-expression modules and found that each cancer exhibited a unique module expression profile. We constructed cancer models based on the co-expression modules and used the models to successfully classify the canine data. These canine-derived models also successfully classified human tumors representing the same cancers, indicating shared cancer biology between canines and humans. Annotation of the module genes identified cancer specific pathways relevant to cells-of-origin and tumor biology. For example, annotations associated with melanin production (PMEL, GPNMB, and BACE2), synthesis of bone material (COL5A2, COL6A3, and COL12A1), synthesis of pulmonary surfactant (CTSH, LPCAT1, and NAPSA), ribosomal proteins (RPL8, RPS7, and RPLP0), and epigenetic regulation (EDEM1, PTK2B, and JAK1) were unique to melanoma, osteosarcoma, pulmonary carcinoma, B- and T-cell lymphoma, respectively. In total, 152 biomarker candidates were selected from highly expressing modules for each cancer type. Many of these biomarker candidates are under-explored as drug discovery targets and warrant further study. The demonstrated transferability of classification models from canines to humans enforces the idea that tumor biology, biomarker targets, and associated therapeutics, discovered in canines, may translate to human medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Bone Neoplasms / genetics
  • Bone Neoplasms / veterinary
  • Computational Biology
  • Dog Diseases / classification
  • Dog Diseases / genetics*
  • Dogs
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / veterinary
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell / genetics
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell / veterinary
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / genetics
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / veterinary
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / veterinary
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasms / classification
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / veterinary*
  • Oncogenes
  • Osteosarcoma / genetics
  • Osteosarcoma / veterinary
  • Species Specificity
  • Translational Research, Biomedical


  • Biomarkers, Tumor