Iron metabolism protein transferrin receptor 1 involves in cervical cancer progression by affecting gene expression and alternative splicing in HeLa cells

Genes Genomics. 2022 Jan 23. doi: 10.1007/s13258-021-01205-w. Online ahead of print.


Background: Transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1), encoded by TFRC, is a key regulator of iron homeostasis and plays important roles in many diseases, including cancers.

Objective: To decipher the underlying molecular functions of TfR1 based on its influence on transcriptome profile in cancer cells.

Methods: In this study, we first identified the expression pattern and prognostic influence of TFRC in cervical cancer patients from TCGA database. To explore the regulatory outcomes of TfR1 from the view of whole transcriptome profile, we generated TFRC knockdown (TFRC-KD) HeLa cells and negative control (NC) cells using short hairpin RNA (shRNA) method. Unbiased transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) experiment was used to analyze the global expression level and alternative splicing (AS) changes between TFRC-KD and NC cells.

Results: We found TFRC was consistently elevated in cervical cancer samples and tightly associated with prognosis of patients. Differential expression analysis revealed that 629 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified between TFRC-KD and NC. Functional enrichment analysis of these DEGs revealed that TFRC-KD extensively disturbed cell physiology related pathways, including immunity, cell metabolism and gene expression. Moreover, dysregulated AS profile also indicated that TfR1 has important roles in the AS regulation. Hundreds of TfR1-regulated AS genes were involved in DNA repair, cell death, transcription and viral reproduction pathways, which were tightly associated with cancer cell progression.

Conclusions: In summary, we for the first time explored the molecular functions of TfR1 at transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. These results demonstrate TfR1 participates in the progression of cervical cancer by affecting the expression and AS levels of genes in cancer associated pathways, which greatly extends our understanding of TfR1 functions besides iron homeostasis and provide novel options in cancer treatment by targeting TfR1.

Keywords: Alternative splicing; Cell physiology; Gene expression; RNA-seq; TFR1.