An Integrative Computational Approach Based on Expression Similarity Signatures to Identify Protein–Protein Interaction Networks in Female-Specific Cancers

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Breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers have a major impact on mortality in women. These tumors share hormone-dependent mechanisms involved in female-specific cancers which support tumor growth in a different manner. Integrated computational approaches may allow us to better detect genomic similarities between these different female-specific cancers, helping us to deliver more sophisticated diagnosis and precise treatments. Recently, several initiatives of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) have encouraged integrated analyses of multiple cancers rather than individual tumors. These studies revealed common genetic alterations (driver genes) even in clinically distinct entities such as breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. In this study, we aimed to identify expression similarity signatures by extracting common genes among TCGA breast (BRCA), ovarian (OV), and uterine corpus endometrial carcinoma (UCEC) cohorts and infer co-regulatory protein–protein interaction networks that might have a relationship with the estrogen signaling pathway. Thus, we carried out an unsupervised principal component analysis (PCA)-based computational approach, using RNA sequencing data of 2,015 female cancer and 148 normal samples, in order to simultaneously capture the data heterogeneity of intertumors. Firstly, we identified tumor-associated genes from gene expression profiles. Secondly, we investigated the signaling pathways and co-regulatory protein–protein interaction networks underlying these three cancers by leveraging the Ingenuity Pathway Analysis software. In detail, we discovered 1,643 expression similarity signatures (638 downregulated and 1,005 upregulated genes, with respect to normal phenotype), denoted as tumor-associated genes. Through functional genomic analyses, we assessed that these genes were involved in the regulation of cell-cycle-dependent mechanisms, including metaphase kinetochore formation and estrogen-dependent S-phase entry. Furthermore, we generated putative co-regulatory protein–protein interaction networks, based on upstream regulators such as the ERBB2/HER2 gene. Moreover, we provided an ad-hoc bioinformatics workflow with a manageable list of intertumor expression similarity signatures for the three female-specific cancers. The expression similarity signatures identified in this study might uncover potential estrogen-dependent molecular mechanisms promoting carcinogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number612521
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Publication statusPublished - Dec 3 2020


  • bioinformatics
  • breast cancer
  • endometrial cancer
  • molecular signatures
  • ovarian cancer
  • principal component analysis - PCA
  • signaling pathway
  • TCGA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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