Reverse engineering cancer: Inferring transcriptional gene signatures from copy number aberrations with ICAro

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The characterization of a gene product function is a process that involves multiple laboratory techniques in order to silence the gene itself and to understand the resulting cellular phenotype via several omics profiling. When it comes to tumor cells, usually the translation process from in vitro characterization results to human validation is a difficult journey. Here, we present a simple algorithm to extract mRNA signatures from cancer datasets, where a particular gene has been deleted at the genomic level, ICAro. The process is implemented as a two-step workflow. The first one employs several filters in order to select the two patient subsets: the inactivated one, where the target gene is deleted, and the control one, where large genomic rearrangements should be absent. The second step performs a signature extraction via a Differential Expression analysis and a complementary Random Forest approach to provide an additional gene ranking in terms of information loss. We benchmarked the system robustness on a panel of genes frequently deleted in cancers, where we validated the downregulation of target genes and found a correlation with signatures extracted with the L1000 tool, outperforming random sampling for two out of six L1000 classes. Furthermore, we present a use case correlation with a published transcriptomic experiment. In conclusion, deciphering the complex interactions of the tumor environment is a challenge that requires the integration of several experimental techniques in order to create reproducible results. We implemented a tool which could be of use when trying to find mRNA signatures related to a gene loss event to better understand its function or for a gene-loss associated biomarker research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number256
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Biomarker discovery
  • Cancer CRISPR
  • Copy number aberration
  • Copy number variation
  • Firehose
  • Gene inactivation biomarkers
  • Gene loss biomarkers
  • Gene signature extraction
  • TCGA mining
  • Transcriptional signatures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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