Fusion genes are chimeric genes formed in cancers through genomic aberrations such as translocations, amplifications, and rearrangements. To identify fusion genes in gastric cancer, we analyzed regions of chromosomal imbalance in a cohort of 106 primary gastric cancers and 27 cell lines derived from gastric cancers. Multiple samples exhibited genomic breakpoints in the 5′ region of SLC1A2/EAAT2, a gene encoding a glutamate transporter. Analysis of a breakpoint-positive SNU16 cell line revealed expression of a CD44-SLC1A2 fusion transcript caused by a paracentric chromosomal inversion, which was predicted to produce a truncated but functional SLC1A2 protein. In primary tumors, CD44-SLC1A2 gene fusions were detected in 1 to 2% of gastric cancers, but not in adjacent matched normal gastric tissues. When we specifically silenced CD44-SLC1A2, cellular proliferation, invasion, and anchorage-independent growth were significantly reduced. Conversely, CD44-SLC1A2 overexpression in gastric cells stimulated these pro-oncogenic traits. CD44-SLC1A2 silencing caused significant reductions in intracellular glutamate concentrations and sensitized SNU16 cells to cisplatin, a commonly used chemotherapeutic agent in gastric cancer. We conclude that fusion of the SLC1A2 gene coding region to CD44 regulatory elements likely causes SLC1A2 transcriptional dysregulation, because tumors expressing high SLC1A2 levels also tended to be CD44-SLC1A2-positive. CD44-SLC1A2 may represent a class of gene fusions in cancers that establish a pro-oncogenic metabolic milieu favoring tumor growth and survival.
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