PloS one

In silico ascription of gene expression differences to tumor and stromal cells in a model to study impact on breast cancer outcome.

PMID 21124964


Breast tumors consist of several different tissue components. Despite the heterogeneity, most gene expression analyses have traditionally been performed without prior microdissection of the tissue sample. Thus, the gene expression profiles obtained reflect the mRNA contribution from the various tissue components. We utilized histopathological estimations of area fractions of tumor and stromal tissue components in 198 fresh-frozen breast tumor tissue samples for a cell type-associated gene expression analysis associated with distant metastasis. Sets of differentially expressed gene-probes were identified in tumors from patients who developed distant metastasis compared with those who did not, by weighing the contribution from each tumor with the relative content of stromal and tumor epithelial cells in their individual tumor specimen. The analyses were performed under various assumptions of mRNA transcription level from tumor epithelial cells compared with stromal cells. A set of 30 differentially expressed gene-probes was ascribed solely to carcinoma cells. Furthermore, two sets of 38 and five differentially expressed gene-probes were mostly associated to tumor epithelial and stromal cells, respectively. Finally, a set of 26 differentially expressed gene-probes was identified independently of cell type focus. The differentially expressed genes were validated in independent gene expression data from a set of laser capture microdissected invasive ductal carcinomas. We present a method for identifying and ascribing differentially expressed genes to tumor epithelial and/or stromal cells, by utilizing pathologic information and weighted t-statistics. Although a transcriptional contribution from the stromal cell fraction is detectable in microarray experiments performed on bulk tumor, the gene expression differences between the distant metastasis and no distant metastasis group were mostly ascribed to the tumor epithelial cells of the primary breast tumors. However, the gene PIP5K2A was found significantly elevated in stroma cells in distant metastasis group, compared to stroma in no distant metastasis group. These findings were confirmed in gene expression data from the representative compartments from microdissected breast tissue. The method described was also found to be robust to different histopathological procedures.