Molecular oncology

Subtype-dependent prognostic relevance of an interferon-induced pathway metagene in node-negative breast cancer.

PMID 24853384


The majority of gene expression signatures developed to predict the likelihood to relapse in breast cancer (BC) patients assigns a high risk score to patients with Estrogen Receptor (ER) negative or highly proliferating tumors. We aimed to identify a signature of differentially expressed (DE) metagenes, rather than single DE genes, associated with distant metastases beyond classical risk factors. We used 105 gene expression profiles from consecutive BCs to identify metagenes whose prognostic role was defined on an independent series of 92 ESR1+/ERBB2- node-negative BCs (42 cases developing metastases within 5 years from diagnosis and 50 cases metastasis-free for more than 5 years, comparable for age, tumor size, ER status and surgery). Findings were validated on publicly available datasets of 684 node-negative BCs including all the subtypes. Only a metagene containing interferon-induced genes (IFN metagene) proved to be predictive of distant metastasis in our series of patients with ESR1+/ERBB2- tumors (P = 0.029), and such a finding was validated on 457 ESR1+/ERBB2- BCs from public datasets (P = 0.0424). Conversely, the IFN metagene was associated with a low risk of metastasis in 104 ERBB2+ tumors (P = 0.0099) whereas it did not prove to significantly affect prognosis in 123 ESR1-/ERBB2- tumors (P = 0.2235). A complex prognostic interaction was revealed in ESR1+/ERBB2- and ERBB2+ tumors when the association between the IFN metagene and a T-cell metagene was considered. The study confirms the importance of analyzing prognostic variables separately within BC subtypes, highlights the advantages of using metagenes rather than genes, and finally identifies in node-negative ESR1+/ERBB2- BCs, the unfavorable role of high IFN metagene expression.