Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Xifeng Wu

Committee Member

Craig L. Hanis

Committee Member

Gary E. Gallick

Committee Member

Jian Gu

Committee Member

Scott M. Lippman


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the US. Emerging evidence has shown that host genetic factors can interact with environmental exposures to influence patient susceptibility to the diseases as well as clinical outcomes, such as survival and recurrence. We aimed to identify genetic prognostic markers for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), a major (85%) subtype of lung cancer, and also in other subgroups. With the fast evolution of genotyping technology, genetic association studies have went through candidate gene approach, to pathway-based approach, to the genome wide association study (GWAS). Even in the era of GWAS, pathway-based approach has its own advantages on studying cancer clinical outcomes: it is cost-effective, requiring a smaller sample size than GWAS easier to identify a validation population and explore gene-gene interactions. In the current study, we adopted pathway-based approach focusing on two critical pathways - miRNA and inflammation pathways. MicroRNAs (miRNA) post-transcriptionally regulate around 30% of human genes. Polymorphisms within miRNA processing pathways and binding sites may influence patients’ prognosis through altered gene regulation. Inflammation plays an important role in cancer initiation and progression, and also has shown to impact patients’ clinical outcomes.

We first evaluated 240 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in miRNA biogenesis genes and predicted binding sites in NSCLC patients to determine associations with clinical outcomes in early-stage (stage I and II) and late-stage (stage III and IV) lung cancer patients, respectively. First, in 535 early-stage patients, after correcting multiple comparisons, FZD4:rs713065 (hazard ratio [HR]:0.46, 95% confidence interval [CI]:0.32-0.65) showed a significant inverse association with survival in early stage surgery-only patients. SP1:rs17695156 (HR:2.22, 95% CI:1.44-3.41) and DROSHA:rs6886834 (HR:6.38, 95% CI:2.49-16.31) conferred increased risk of progression in the all patients and surgery-only populations, respectively. FAS:rs2234978 was significantly associated with improved survival in all patients (HR:0.59, 95% CI:0.44-0.77) and in the surgery plus chemotherapy populations (HR:0.19, 95% CI:0.07-0.46).. Functional genomics analysis demonstrated that this variant creates a miR-651 binding site resulting in altered miRNA regulation of FAS, providing biological plausibility for the observed association. We then analyzed these associations in 598 late-stage patients. After multiple comparison corrections, no SNPs remained significant in the late stage group, while the top SNP NAT1:rs15561 (HR=1.98, 96%CI=1.32-2.94) conferred a significantly increased risk of death in the chemotherapy subgroup.

To test the hypothesis that genetic variants in the inflammation-related pathways may be associated with survival in NSCLC patients, we first conducted a three-stage study. In the discovery phase, we investigated a comprehensive panel of 11,930 inflammation-related SNPs in three independent lung cancer populations. A missense SNP (rs2071554) in HLA-DOB was significantly associated with poor survival in the discovery population (HR: 1.46, 95% CI: 1.02-2.09), internal validation population (HR: 1.51, 95% CI: 1.02-2.25), and external validation (HR: 1.52, 95% CI: 1.01-2.29) population. Rs2900420 in KLRK1 was significantly associated with a reduced risk for death in the discovery (HR: 0.76, 95% CI: 0.60-0.96) and internal validation (HR: 0.77, 95% CI: 0.61-0.99) populations, and the association reached borderline significance in the external validation population (HR: 0.80, 95% CI: 0.63-1.02). We also evaluated these inflammation-related SNPs in NSCLC patients in never smokers. Lung cancer in never smokers has been increasingly recognized as distinct disease from that in ever-smokers. A two-stage study was performed using a discovery population from MD Anderson (411 patients) and a validation population from Mayo Clinic (311 patients). Three SNPs (IL17RA:rs879576, BMP8A:rs698141, and STK:rs290229) that were significantly associated with survival were validated (pCD74:rs1056400 and CD38:rs10805347) were borderline significant (p=0.08) in the Mayo Clinic population. In the combined analysis, IL17RA:rs879576 resulted in a 40% reduction in the risk for death (p=4.1 × 10-5 [p=0.61, heterogeneity test]). We also validated a survival tree created in MD Anderson population in the Mayo Clinic population.

In conclusion, our results provided strong evidence that genetic variations in specific pathways that examined (miRNA and inflammation pathways) influenced clinical outcomes in NSCLC patients, and with further functional studies, the novel loci have potential to be translated into clinical use.


Lung Cancer, clinical outcomes, polymorphism

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