Zodiac (Case 12) — HER3: the little sister of HER2 and its potential role in liquid cancer

This is the 12th-article of a blog series aiming to introduce Zodiac, a comprehensive tool that reveals genetic interactions in cancer by big-data computation. An introduction of Zodiac is in the 1st article here.

HER3 is member of the human EGF receptor (HER/EGFR) family. The family is home of famous receptor tyrosine kinases such as HER2 and EGFR, which have been heavily targeted in cancer treatment. For example,Trastuzumab is Cetuximab are FDA-approved monoclonal antibodies (mAb) targetting HER2 and EGFR, respectively, among many other approved mAb’s.

A recent paper by Gaborit et al. in PNAS investigated the important role of antibody for HER3 in inhibiting tumor growth. I did a quick investigation of HER3 in Zodiac. The top co-expressed gene with HER3 in Zodiac is

FUT3 The Lewis histo-blood group system comprises a set of fucosylated glycosphingolipids that are synthesized by exocrine epithelial cells and circulate in body fluids. The glycosphingolipids function in embryogenesis, tissue differentiation, tumor metastasis, inflammation, and bacterial adhesion. They are secondarily absorbed to red blood cells giving rise to their Lewis phenotype. This gene is a member of the fucosyltransferase family, which catalyzes the addition of fucose to precursor polysaccharides in the last step of Lewis antigen biosynthesis. It encodes an enzyme with alpha(1,3)-fucosyltransferase and alpha(1,4)-fucosyltransferase activities. Mutations in this gene are responsible for the majority of Lewis antigen-negative phenotypes.

This gene seems to be related many important functions in development, cell differentiation, and tumor metastasis. Among the top genes, a few of them are related to growth factors (or their receptors) as expected. Specifically, they are either epidermal growth factor (EGF) -EGR receptor (EGFR) or hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) -HGF receptor (HGFR). They are listed below according to a descending order of statistical significance based on Zodiac.

ERBB2 (this is HER2) This gene encodes a member of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor family of receptor tyrosine kinases. This protein has no ligand binding domain of its own and therefore cannot bind growth factors. However, it does bind tightly to other ligand-bound EGF receptor family members to form a heterodimer, stabilizing ligand binding and enhancing kinase-mediated activation of downstream signalling pathways, such as those involving mitogen-activated protein kinase and phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase. Allelic variations at amino acid positions 654 and 655 of isoform a (positions 624 and 625 of isoform b) have been reported, with the most common allele, Ile654/Ile655, shown here. Amplification and/or overexpression of this gene has been reported in numerous cancers, including breast and ovarian tumors.

MACC1 MACC1 is a key regulator of the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF; MIM 142409)-HGF receptor (HGFR, or MET; MIM 164860) pathway, which is involved in cellular growth, epithelial-mesenchymal transition, angiogenesis, cell motility, invasiveness, and metastasis. Expression of MACC1 in colon cancer (MIM 114500) specimens is an independent prognostic indicator for metastasis formation and metastasis-free survival (Stein et al., 2009 [PubMed 19098908]).

GRB7 The product of this gene belongs to a small family of adapter proteins that are known to interact with a number of receptor tyrosine kinases and signaling molecules. This gene encodes a growth factor receptor-binding protein that interacts with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and ephrin receptors. The protein plays a role in the integrin signaling pathway and cell migration by binding with focal adhesion kinase (FAK).

SPINT1 The protein encoded by this gene is a member of the Kunitz family of serine protease inhibitors. The protein is a potent inhibitor specific for HGF activator and is thought to be involved in the regulation of the proteolytic activation of HGF in injured tissues.

Inhibition of HER3 is likely to affect these important growth factors and their receptors, therefore supporting the main findings in the PNAS paper above.

What triggered me to write this blog is not these findings as they are more or less “expected”. Sure, HER3 should be associated with other growth factors and receptors, since it belongs to a family of growth factor receptor genes. Zodiac seems to confirm this general prior belief. However, since Zodiac provides interactions on several other genomic features, I took a further look and found that there is an unusual large number of interactions between HER3 ME (methylation) and other genes’ GE (gene expression). See the figure below.


I looked into the top 20 genes whose GE are associated with ME of HER3. The top 20 genes are overwhelmingly loaded with genes related to lymphocytes and immune cells such as NK and T cells. It appears that HER3 might be associated with liquid cancers and lymphocyte malignancies. The following genes are ordered from top as ranked by Zodiac. I removed genes without NCBI descriptions.

LAG3 Lymphocyte-activation protein 3 belongs to Ig superfamily and contains 4 extracellular Ig-like domains. The LAG3 gene contains 8 exons. The sequence data, exon/intron organization, and chromosomal localization all indicate a close relationship of LAG3 to CD4.

CD79A The B lymphocyte antigen receptor is a multimeric complex that includes the antigen-specific component, surface immunoglobulin (Ig). Surface Ig non-covalently associates with two other proteins, Ig-alpha and Ig-beta, which are necessary for expression and function of the B-cell antigen receptor. This gene encodes the Ig-alpha protein of the B-cell antigen component.

PTPN7 The protein encoded by this gene is a member of the protein tyrosine phosphatase (PTP) family. PTPs are known to be signaling molecules that regulate a variety of cellular processes including cell growth, differentiation, mitotic cycle, and oncogenic transformation. This gene is preferentially expressed in a variety of hematopoietic cells, and is an early response gene in lymphokine stimulated cells. The non-catalytic N-terminus of this PTP can interact with MAP kinases and suppress the MAP kinase activities. This PTP was shown to be involved in the regulation of T cell antigen receptor (TCR) signaling, which was thought to function through dephosphorylating the molecules related to MAP kinase pathway.

MMP25 Proteins of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) family are involved in the breakdown of extracellular matrix in normal physiological processes, such as embryonic development, reproduction, and tissue remodeling, as well as in disease processes, such as arthritis and metastasis. Most MMPs are secreted as inactive proproteins which are activated when cleaved by extracellular proteinases. However, the protein encoded by this gene is a member of the membrane-type MMP (MT-MMP) subfamily, attached to the plasma membrane via a glycosylphosphatidyl inositol anchor. In response to bacterial infection or inflammation, the encoded protein is thought to inactivate alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor, a major tissue protectant against proteolytic enzymes released by activated neutrophils, facilitating the transendothelial migration of neutrophils to inflammatory sites. The encoded protein may also play a role in tumor invasion and metastasis through activation of MMP2. The gene has previously been referred to as MMP20 but has been renamed MMP25.

HCST This gene encodes a transmembrane signaling adaptor that contains a YxxM motif in its cytoplasmic domain. The encoded protein may form part of the immune recognition receptor complex with the C-type lectin-like receptor NKG2D. As part of this receptor complex, this protein may activate phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase dependent signaling pathways through its intracytoplasmic YxxM motif. This receptor complex may have a role in cell survival and proliferation by activation of NK and T cell responses.

CCR7 The protein encoded by this gene is a member of the G protein-coupled receptor family. This receptor was identified as a gene induced by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and is thought to be a mediator of EBV effects on B lymphocytes. This receptor is expressed in various lymphoid tissues and activates B and T lymphocytes. It has been shown to control the migration of memory T cells to inflamed tissues, as well as stimulate dendritic cell maturation. The chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 19 (CCL19/ECL) has been reported to be a specific ligand of this receptor. Signals mediated by this receptor regulate T cell homeostasis in lymph nodes, and may also function in the activation and polarization of T cells, and in chronic inflammation pathogenesis.

CYTIP The protein encoded by this gene contains 2 leucine zipper domains and a putative C-terminal nuclear targeting signal, but does not have any hydrophobic regions. This protein is expressed weakly in resting NK and T cells. The encoded protein modulates the activation of ARF genes by CYTH1. This protein interacts with CYTH1 and SNX27 proteins and may act to sequester CYTH1 protein in the cytoplasm.

GFI1 This gene encodes a nuclear zinc finger protein that functions as a transcriptional repressor. This protein plays a role in diverse developmental contexts, including hematopoiesis and oncogenesis. It functions as part of a complex along with other cofactors to control histone modifications that lead to silencing of the target gene promoters. Mutations in this gene cause autosomal dominant severe congenital neutropenia, and also dominant nonimmune chronic idiopathic neutropenia of adults, which are heterogeneous hematopoietic disorders that cause predispositions to leukemias and infections.

PTPN22 This gene encodes of member of the non-receptor class 4 subfamily of the protein-tyrosine phosphatase family. The encoded protein is a lymphoid-specific intracellular phosphatase that associates with the molecular adapter protein CBL and may be involved in regulating CBL function in the T-cell receptor signaling pathway. Mutations in this gene may be associated with a range of autoimmune disorders including Type 1 Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and Graves’ disease.

RHOH The protein encoded by this gene is a member of the Ras superfamily of guanosine triphosphate (GTP)-metabolizing enzymes. The encoded protein is expressed in hematopoietic cells, where it functions as a negative regulator of cell growth and survival. This gene may be hypermutated or misexpressed in leukemias and lymphomas. Chromosomal translocations in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma occur between this locus and B-cell CLL/lymphoma 6 (BCL6) on chromosome 3, leading to the production of fusion transcripts.

These are positive ME-GE interactions, meaning that methylation of HER3 will lead to over-expression of these genes. These findings seem to suggest that HER3 has a role in liquid cancer.


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