Astrocytoma is the most common glioma, accounting for half of all primary brain and spinal cord tumors. Late detection and the aggressive nature of high-grade astrocytomas contribute to high mortality rates. Though many studies identify candidate biomarkers using high-throughput transcriptomic profiling to stratify grades and subtypes, few have resulted in clinically actionable results. This shortcoming can be attributed, in part, to pronounced lab effects that reduce signature robustness and varied individual gene expression among patients with the same tumor. We addressed these issues by uniformly preprocessing publicly available transcriptomic data, comprising 306 tumor samples from three astrocytoma grades (Grade 2, 3, and 4) and 30 non-tumor samples (normal brain as control tissues). Utilizing Differential Rank Conservation (DIRAC), a network-based classification approach, we examined the global and individual patterns of network regulation across tumor grades. Additionally, we applied gene-based approaches to identify genes whose expression changed consistently with increasing tumor grade and evaluated their robustness across multiple studies using statistical sampling. Applying DIRAC, we observed a global trend of greater network dysregulation with increasing tumor aggressiveness. Individual networks displaying greater differences in regulation between adjacent grades play well-known roles in calcium/PKC, EGF, and transcription signaling. Interestingly, many of the 90 individual genes found to monotonically increase or decrease with astrocytoma grade are implicated in cancer-affected processes such as calcium signaling, mitochondrial metabolism, and apoptosis. The fact that specific genes monotonically increase or decrease with increasing astrocytoma grade may reflect shared oncogenic mechanisms among phenotypically similar tumors. This work presents statistically significant results that enable better characterization of different human astrocytoma grades and hopefully can contribute towards improvements in diagnosis and therapy choices. Our results also identify a number of testable hypotheses relating to astrocytoma etiology that may prove helpful in developing much-needed biomarkers for earlier disease detection.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)