Identification of a microRNA signature associated with survivability in cervical squamous cell carcinoma
Identification of a microRNA signature associated with survivability in cervical squamous cell carcinoma
Chengbin Ma 0 1
Wenying Zhang 0 1
Qiongwei Wu 0 1
Yu Liu 0 1
Chao Wang 0 1
Guoying Lao 0 1
Longtao Yang 0 1
Ping Liu 0 1
0 Department of Gynecology, Changning Maternity and Infant Health Hospital , Shanghai , China
1 Editor: Qingyi Wei, Duke Cancer Institute , UNITED STATES
The expression of 332 miRNAs was measured in 131 (Training cohort) and 130 (Validation cohort) patients with CSCC in the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) data portal. The miRNA expression signature was identified by Cox Proportion Hazard regression model to the Training data set, and subsequently validated in an independent Validation set. KaplanMeier curves and the receiver operating characteristic analyses of 5 years were used to access the overall survival of miRNA signature. MiRNA signature-gene target analysis was performed, followed by the construction of the regulatory network. Gene Ontology and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes pathway analysis were used to explore the function of target genes of miRNA signature.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are
within the paper.
Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
The aim of this study is to find the potential miRNA expression signature capable of
predicting survival time for cervical squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC) patients.
A 2-miRNA expression signature of hsa-mir-642a and hsa-mir-378c associated with
survivability was identified in CSCC. Both of them had a significant diagnostic and prognostic
value of patients with CSCC. A total of 345 miRNA signature-target pairs were obtained in
the miRNA signature-gene target regulatory network, in which 316 genes were targets of
has-mir-378c and has-mir-642a. Functional analysis of target genes showed that MAPK
signaling pathway, VEGF signaling pathway and endocytosis were the significantly enriched
signal pathways that covered most genes.
The 2-miRNA signature adds to the prognostic value of CSCC. In-depth interrogation of the
2-miRNAs will provide important biological insights that finding and developing novel
molecularly prediction to improve prognosis for CSCC patients.
Cervical squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC), accounting for about 75±80% of all cervical
cancers, is one of the most common gynecological malignancy and leads to the cancer death in
]. Walboomers JM and Castellsague X et al found that CSCC was closely
associated with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) infection [3, 4]. In addition, lymph node
metastasis is one of diffusion routes that influence survival and prognosis of CSCC [
Once lymph node metastasis occurs, the overall 5-year survival rate for early stage carcinoma
of the uterine cervix is reduced to 53%, which lead to the high recurrence rate and poor
prognosis of patients with CSCC [7±10]. As there are no valid diagnostic and therapeutic methods
for CSCC, it is urgent to understand the pathological mechanism and find potential biological
markers for diagnosis, therapy and prognosis of patients with CSCC. [
]. Several genes
have been identified as the diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for CSCC. It has been
demonstrated that the kinase family member 20a (KIF20A) protein is one potential biomarker for
]. Additionally, Liu DQ et al suggested that receptor interacting serine/threonine
kinase 4 (RIPK4) might act as a potential diagnostic and independent prognostic biomarker
for patients with CSCC [
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that are approximately 22 nt in size.
They can modulate growth, proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis of cells by regulating
target genes expression at the post-transcriptional level. As microRNAs stably present in
almost all body fluids, they constitute a new class of non-invasive biomarkers [15±19]. It has
been reported that the deregulation of miRNAs leads to the occurrence of a number of
diseases, such as cancers in cervical [
]. MiR-23b/uPA is involved in the HPV-16 E6-associated
cervical cancer development [
]. MiR-372 is down-regulated in cervical cancer tissues
compared with normal cervical tissues [
]. The down-regulation of miR-143 is associated with
lymph node metastasis and poor prognosis in cervical cancer [
]. It is reported that 6
serum microRNAs including miR-1246, miR-20a, miR-2392, miR-3147, miR-3162-5p and
miR-4484 has been identified in predicting lymph node metastasis of CSCC patients . In
addition, it is found that serum miR-206 is a powerful tool to predict chemoradiotherapy
sensitivity in advanced-stage CSCC patients [
]. It is noteworthy that the identification
of potential miRNAs that participate in survival prediction is essential for establishing
novel prognosis strategies for CSCC. Recently, miRNA expression signatures related to
prognosis have been found in number of malignancy [
]. Hence, we undertook to identify and
validate a miRNA expression signature capable of predicting for survivability in CSCC
Material and methods
TCGA data retrieval and analysis
The BCGSC__IlluminaHiSeq_miRNASeq data were acquired from Firebrowse (http://
firebrowse.org/?cohort=LIHC&download_dialog=true, 2016-01-28). Level 3
(Reads-per-kilobase-million; RPKM) miRNA-Seq and Level 1 clinical data were downloaded from the TCGA
data portal (http://tcga-data.nci.nih.gov/tcga) dataset. At the time of analysis, there were 307
clinical histories. Only those clinical histories with miRNA-seq values and sufficient follow-up
data (261 cases) were used for further survival analysis. All these cases were randomly divided
into Training cohort (131 cases) and Validation cohort (130 cases). There was no significant
difference in gender, race, family history, tumor stage, vascular invasion, follow-up time and
follow-up result between two cohorts. Clinical characteristics for two cohorts were shown in
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Identification and survival analysis of miRNA signature
In order to identify the survival time related miRNAs in CSCC, the single factor Cox
proportional hazard (CoxPH) regression model was fitted to the Training cohort data. The statistical
significance was set at p<0.05. After further adjustment, the multi-factor CoxPH regression
model was used for identification of miRNA signature in the survival evaluation model of
CSCC. A risk score (RS) was calculated using the coefficients from the model, and high vs. low
risk patients were then compared in the Training cohort and Validation cohort using the
logrank test. Kaplan-Meier curves were used to plot overall survival with miRNA signature
expression using Cutoff Finder (http://molpath.charite.de/cutoff). In addition, the receiver operating
characteristic (ROC) analyses were performed to assess the 5 years' survival rate of miRNA
signature of CSCC by using pROC package in R language. The area under the curve (AUC) under
binomial exact confidence interval was calculated and the ROC curve was generated.
Network construction of miRNA signature-targets
Identifying target genes is an important step in studying the function of miRNA in tissues. In this
study, target genes of miRNA signature were obtained by miRWalk
(http://www.umm.uniheidelberg.de/apps/zmf/mirwalk/). According to the miRNA-target pairs, miRNA
signature-targets interaction network was established by Cytoscape software (http://www.cytoscape.org/).)
Functional annotation of miRNA signature targets
In order to study the biological function of target genes of miRNA signature, the Gene
Ontology (GO) and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathway analysis were
Training cohorts (n = 131)
Validation cohorts (n = 130)
performed by using the online software GeneCodis3 (http://genecodis.cnb.csic.es/analysis).
The threshold of false discovery rate (FDR) < 0.05 was set as the criteria of statistical
Generation and validation of miRNA signature
The single factor CoxPH regression model fitted to the Training cohort yielded 47 miRNAs
(Table 2). A group of miRNA signatures including hsa-mir-642a and hsa-mir-378c (Table 3)
was identified that were most strongly associated with survival after multi-factor CoxPH
regression model analysis. The miRNA signature was combined with their coefficients within
the penalized model to yield the following equation:
The RS was calculated for each patient in the Training cohort, in which the patients were
dichotomized into either the ªlow riskº (< median), or the ªhigh riskº ( median) group. A
highly significant difference was observed between the high risk and the low risk group
(p < 0.001), that was shown in Fig 1. When the same miRNA signature equation was applied
to the Validation cohort, a similar significant difference was also observed between the high
risk and the low risk group (p = 0.007), that was shown in Fig 2. Additionally, we performed 5
years' survival analysis of miRNA signature by ROC and calculated the AUC to assess the
discriminatory ability of miRNA signature (Fig 3). The AUC of the miRNA signature was 0.7221.
Our result suggested that the miRNA signature could be the prognosis model for predicting
the survival situation of CSCC.
MiRNA signature-targets network
A total of 345 miRNA signature-target pairs were obtained by miRWalk, followed by the
construction of the interaction network (Fig 4). In the network, 316 genes were targets of
has-mir642a and has-mir-378c. The red rhombus and blue-green ellipse represented the miRNA and
target genes, respectively.
Functional annotation of miRNA signature targets
According to the GO enrichment analysis, intracellular signal transduction (FDR = 0.0001536),
cell proliferation (FDR = 0.0001913) and blood coagulation (FDR = 0.0001913) were the most
significantly enriched biological process; protein binding (FDR = 7.47E-12), nucleotide binding
(FDR = 5.97E-09) and metal ion binding (FDR = 5.34E-08) were the most significantly enriched
molecular function; nucleus (FDR = 5.68E-17), cytoplasm (FDR = 3.66E-15) and membrane
(FDR = 7.10E-09) were the most significantly enriched cellular component. The top 15 GO
terms were shown in Table 4. MAPK signaling pathway (FDR = 4.14E-05), VEGF signaling
pathway (FDR = 8.89E-05) and endocytosis (FDR = 9.18E-05) were significantly enriched signal
pathways that covered most genes. The top 15 KEGG terms were shown in Table 5.
CSCC is one of the most common gynecological cancers that affect the health of women [
In addition, the 5-year overall survival rate is about 80% [
]. Even so, it is needed to
understand the pathological mechanism and find potential survival related genes in the development
of CSCC. In this study, we found a miRNA signature including hsa-mir-642a and
hsa-mir378c in CSCC, which could be a valuable tool in guiding treatment decisions for CSCC.
Hsa-mir-642a, a primate-specific miRNA, is a tumor suppressor. It is reported that
hsamir-642a is differentially expressed in lung cancer cells [
]. Interaction of hsa-mir-642a-5p
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Fig 1. Kaplan-Meier curves showing CSCC patients dichotomized based on risk score in the Training cohort.
High risk is defined as a RS the median in the training cohort, and low risk is defined as a RS < the median in the
and Linc00974 can increase the expression of keratin 19 and activate Notch and TGF-β
signaling pathways, which will increase the proliferation and invasion of hepatocellular carcinoma
]. It is found that hsa-mir-642a is over expressed in the pediatric embryonal central nervous
system neoplasm that is regarded as a prognostic parameter of patients [
]. In addition, the
abnormal expression of hsa-mir-642a in myeloma cell lines significantly decreased protein
levels of DEP domain containing MTOR interacting, which caused dedifferentiation of myeloma
]. It is noteworthy that hsa-mir-642a is associated with cervical cancer prognosis [
Herein, we also found that hsa-mir-642a was related to survival time of patients with CSCC.
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Fig 2. Kaplan-Meier curves showing CSCC patients dichotomized based on risk score in the Validation cohort.
High risk is defined as a RS the median in the training cohort, and low risk is defined as a RS < the median in the
Furthermore, cryptochrome circadian clock 2 (CRY2) was one of the target genes of
hsa-mir642a. Cryptochrome 2 is circadian clock gene and the hypermethylation of CRY2 is involved
in DNA recombination and repair in long-term shift-workers [
]. It has been demonstrated
that the genetic variation of CRY2 is related to metabolic characteristics of type 2 diabetes [
]. In addition, CRY2 has been suggested to act as a modulator in the development of cancer
. The expression level of CRY2 in ovarian cancer is remarkably lower than those in normal
]. The polymorphism in CRY2 gene has been frequently found associated with
increased risk or recurrence of breast and endometrial cancers [
]. Our result showed that
hsa-mir-642a was significantly associated with survival time of CSCC and could be a
diagnostic and prognostic marker of CSCC.
It is reported that the expression of hsa-mir-378c may enhance cell survival and tumor
]. It has been found that hsa-mir-378c is associated with Stage I and Stage II colon
cancer compared with normal controls . Additionally, the expression of hsa-mir-378c is
significantly down-regulated in osteosarcoma, intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and advanced
stage gastric cancer [43±45]. It is worth mentioning that hsa-mir-378c is the member of
protective miRNA signatures and correlated with cervical cancer prognosis [
]. In this study, we
found that hsa-mir-378c was one of the members of miRNA signatures in the CSCC survival
analysis. Moreover, myelin regulatory factor (MYRF) was one of the target genes of
hsa-mir378c. MYRF is a myelin-associated gene and acts as a key transcription factor for
oligodendrocyte differentiation and central nervous system myelination. [46±48]. In addition, it is the
target gene of hsa-mir-423-5p and involved in the immune response or injury in the retina [
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Fig 3. 5 years' ROC curves of miRNA signature in CSCC. The ROC curves were used to show the diagnostic ability
of miRNA signature and miRNA signature with 1-Specificity (the proportion of false positive) and sensitivity (the
proportion of true positive) and. The x-axis shows 1-specificity and y-axis shows sensitivity.
MYRF may be involved in the nervous and immune of CSCC. In a word, hsa-mir-378c played
a crucial role in the CSCC and could be a diagnostic and prognostic marker in the
development of CSCC.
According to the functional annotation analysis of miRNA signature targets, MAPK
signaling pathway (FDR = 4.14E-05), VEGF signaling pathway (FDR = 8.89E-05) and endocytosis
(FDR = 9.18E-05) were significantly enriched signal pathways that covered most genes. It has
been shown that p38 MAPK is involved in a number of cellular processes, including cell
survival and death [
]. It is found that human papillomavirus (HPV) 16 E2 can induce
apoptosis by inhibiting p38 MAPK/JNK signal pathway in CSCC, which is important for the in
vitro growth and migration of cervical squamous carcinoma cells in response to HPV 16 E2
]. VEGF has been identified as angiogenesis regulator and may be important to
restrict tumor growth, progression and metastasis. Vascular proliferation is a characteristic of
cervical cancer and high density of microvessels indicates a worse prognosis of the disease
]. Tjalma W et al found that the expression level of VEGF was high in cervical cancers [
It is suggested that VEGF could stimulate tumor cell proliferation in the early stages and may
be responsible for tumorigenesis of cervical cancer [
]. In addition, it has been demonstrated
that VEGF could be the predictive biomarker for monitoring the recurrence of cervical cancer
]. The endocytosis process is involved in regulating various biological process including cell
cycle and apoptosis in cancer cells [
]. It has been reported that endocytosis is associated
with CSCC-specific alternative splicing events . This suggested that MAPK, VEGF and
endocytosis signal pathways may play an important role in CSCC. Inhibition of these signal
pathways might be a useful therapeutic strategy for CSCC.
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Fig 4. MiRNA signature-targets interaction network. The red rhombus and blue-green ellipse represented the
miRNA and target genes, respectively.
intracellular signal transduction
positive regulation of cysteine-type endopeptidase activity involved in apoptotic process
innate immune response
nerve growth factor receptor signaling pathway
striated muscle cell differentiation
positive regulation of transcription from RNA polymerase II promoter
regulation of transcription from RNA polymerase II promoter
No. of genes
No. of genes
In summary, we have identified and successfully validated a 2-miRNA signature of
hsa-mir642a and hsa-mir-378c in patients with CSCC. The signature adds to the potential predictive
role in the survival time of CSCC patients. Therefore, we can detect the expression of
hsa-mir642a and hsa-mir-378c in the blood to predict the survival time of patients with CSCC, which
will improve the clinical outcome for patients with CSCC.
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Conceptualization: Chao Wang.
Data curation: Qiongwei Wu, Guoying Lao.
Formal analysis: Chengbin Ma.
Investigation: Yu Liu.
Methodology: Wenying Zhang, Qiongwei Wu, Chao Wang.
Project administration: Ping Liu.
Resources: Wenying Zhang, Yu Liu, Longtao Yang.
Software: Guoying Lao, Longtao Yang.
Writing ± original draft: Chengbin Ma.
Writing ± review & editing: Ping Liu.
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