BACKGROUND: Melanoma is an aggressive type of skin cancer whose aetiology remains elusive as both environmental and genetic factors can contribute to its development. Recent studies have demonstrated the existence of multiple copies of E2F1 gene in melanoma specimens which could explain the deregulated E2F1 activity in this type of cancer. This finding suggests a key role for this transcription factor in the malignant transformation of melanocytes. Therefore, E2F1 has been considered as a potential therapeutic target for this form of skin cancer. Since germline copy number variations (CNVs) have been associated with increased susceptibility to different types of cancer, the aim of our study was to assess germline E2F1 CNV in melanoma patients. However, CNVs not necessarily lead to gene dosage imbalance, hence, further factors, in association with CNVs, could contribute to clinical manifestations. Considering that heat stress has been hypothesised as a contributing factor to skin cancer, we also investigated the effect of heat stress on E2F1 expression.
METHODS: E2F1 CNV was measured in genomic DNA isolated from blood of 552 patients diagnosed with melanoma and 520 healthy subjects using TaqMan Copy Number Assays. E2F1 mRNA expression was also evaluated by RT-qPCR in the melanoma cell line, SK MEL 267, before and after exposure to heat stress.
RESULTS: We found that patients diagnosed with melanoma (1.6%, 9/552) harboured frequently altered germline E2F1 copies compared to healthy subjects (0%, 0/520). Moreover, the difference among the two groups was statistically significant (p = 0.004). Furthermore, we found that heat exposure alone can significantly induce E2F1 expression.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study that shows a relation between germline E2F1 CNV and melanoma, suggesting that altered copies of this gene might be a predisposing factor to skin cancer. Our results also suggest that environmental insults, such as heat stress, could contribute to an aberrant E2F1 activity by inducing E2F1 mRNA expression. Therefore, subjects with multiple constitutive copies of E2F1 are at greater risk of developing melanoma when exposed to heat. Altogether our results corroborate with the hypothesis that susceptibility to melanoma depends on both the environment and genetic factors.