The incidence of HPV-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) has increased more than 200% in the past 20 years. Recent genetic sequencing efforts have elucidated relevant genes in head and neck cancer, but HPV-related tumors have consistently shown few DNA mutations. In this study, we sought to analyze alternative splicing events (ASE) that could alter gene function independent of mutations. To identify ASE unique to HPV-related tumors, RNA sequencing was performed on 46 HPV-positive OPSCC and 25 normal tissue samples. A novel algorithm using outlier statistics on RNA-sequencing junction expression identified 109 splicing events, which were confirmed in a validation set from The Cancer Genome Atlas. Because the most common type of splicing event identified was an alternative start site (39%), MBD-seq genome-wide CpG methylation data were analyzed for methylation alterations at promoter regions. ASE in six genes showed significant negative correlation between promoter methylation and expression of an alternative transcriptional start site, including AKT3. The novel AKT3 transcriptional variant and methylation changes were confirmed using qRT-PCR and qMSP methods. In vitro silencing of the novel AKT3 variant resulted in significant growth inhibition of multiple head and neck cell lines, an effect not observed with wild-type AKT3 knockdown. Analysis of ASE in HPV-related OPSCC identified multiple alterations likely involved in carcinogenesis, including a novel, functionally active transcriptional variant of AKT3. Our data indicate that ASEs represent a significant mechanism of oncogenesis with untapped potential for understanding complex genetic changes that result in the development of cancer.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research