Transcriptional analysis of multiple ovarian cancer cohorts reveals prognostic and immunomodulatory consequences of ERV expression.
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<h4>Background</h4>Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) play a role in a variety of biological processes, including embryogenesis and cancer. DNA methyltransferase inhibitors (DNMTi)-induced ERV expression triggers interferon responses in ovarian cancer cells via the viral sensing machinery. Baseline expression of ERVs also occurs in cancer cells, though this process is poorly understood and previously unexplored in epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC). Here, the prognostic and immunomodulatory consequences of baseline ERV expression was assessed in EOC.<h4>Methods</h4>ERV expression was assessed using EOC transcriptional data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and from an independent cohort (Hammersmith Hospital, HH), as well as from untreated or DNMTi-treated EOC cell lines. Least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) logistic regression defined an ERV expression score to predict patient prognosis. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) was conducted on the HH cohort. Combination of DNMTi treatment with γδ T cells was tested <i>in vitro</i>, using EOC cell lines and patient-derived tumor cells.<h4>Results</h4>ERV expression was found to define clinically relevant subsets of EOC patients. An ERV prognostic score was successfully generated in TCGA and validated in the independent cohort. In EOC patients from this cohort, a high ERV score was associated with better survival (log-rank p=0.0009) and correlated with infiltration of CD8+PD1+T cells (r=0.46, p=0.0001). In the TCGA dataset, a higher ERV score was found in BRCA1/2 mutant tumors, compared to wild type (p=0.015), while a lower ERV score was found in CCNE1 amplified tumors, compared to wild type (p=0.019). <i>In vitro</i>, baseline ERV expression dictates the level of ERV induction in response to DNMTi. Manipulation of an ERV expression threshold by DNMTi resulted in improved EOC cell killing by cytotoxic immune cells.<h4>Conclusions</h4>These findings uncover the potential for baseline ERV expression to robustly inform EOC patient prognosis, influence tumor immune infiltration and affect antitumor immunity.
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Medicine (Brown Epigenetic Therapy)
Journal for immunotherapy of cancer, 2021, 9 (1)