Cheng YK, Beroukhim R, Levine RL, Mellinghoff IK, Holland EC, Michor F. 2012. A mathematical methodology for determining the temporal order of pathway alterations arising during gliomagenesis. PLoS computational biology. 8(1):e1002337. Pubmed: 22241976 DOI:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002337


Human cancer is caused by the accumulation of genetic alterations in cells. Of special importance are changes that occur early during malignant transformation because they may result in oncogene addiction and thus represent promising targets for therapeutic intervention. We have previously described a computational approach, called Retracing the Evolutionary Steps in Cancer (RESIC), to determine the temporal sequence of genetic alterations during tumorigenesis from cross-sectional genomic data of tumors at their fully transformed stage. Since alterations within a set of genes belonging to a particular signaling pathway may have similar or equivalent effects, we applied a pathway-based systems biology approach to the RESIC methodology. This method was used to determine whether alterations of specific pathways develop early or late during malignant transformation. When applied to primary glioblastoma (GBM) copy number data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, RESIC identified a temporal order of pathway alterations consistent with the order of events in secondary GBMs. We then further subdivided the samples into the four main GBM subtypes and determined the relative contributions of each subtype to the overall results: we found that the overall ordering applied for the proneural subtype but differed for mesenchymal samples. The temporal sequence of events could not be identified for neural and classical subtypes, possibly due to a limited number of samples. Moreover, for samples of the proneural subtype, we detected two distinct temporal sequences of events: (i) RAS pathway activation was followed by TP53 inactivation and finally PI3K2 activation, and (ii) RAS activation preceded only AKT activation. This extension of the RESIC methodology provides an evolutionary mathematical approach to identify the temporal sequence of pathway changes driving tumorigenesis and may be useful in guiding the understanding of signaling rearrangements in cancer development.
© 2012 Cheng et al.

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Franziska Michor uses the tools of theoretical evolutionary biology, applied mathematics, statistics, and computational biology to address important questions in cancer research.

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