Non-Coding RNAs Are Brokers in Breast Cancer Interactome Networks and Add Discrimination Power between Subtypes

Ankush Sharma, Enrico Capobianco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the power of high-throughput genomics, most non-coding RNA (ncRNA) bio-types remain hard to identify, characterize, and validate. This is a clear indication that intensive next-generation sequencing research has led to great efficiency and accuracy in detecting ncRNAs, but not in their functionalization. Computational scientists continue to support the discovery process by spotting significant data features (expression or mutational profiles), elucidating phenotype uncertainty, and delineating complex regulation landscapes for biological pathways and pathophysio-logical processes. With reference to transcriptome regulation dynamics in cancer, this work introduces a novel network-driven inference approach designed to reveal the potential role of computationally identified ncRNAs in discriminating between breast cancer (BC) subtypes beyond the traditional gene expression signatures. As heterogeneity cast in the subtypes is a characteristic of most cancers, the proposed approach is generalizable beyond BC. Expression profiles of a wide transcriptome spectrum were obtained for a number of BC patients (and controls) listed in TCGA and processed with RNA-Seq. The well-known PAM50 subtype signature was available for the samples and used to move from differentially expressed transcript profiles to subtype-specific biclusters associating gene patterns with patients. Co-expressed gene networks were then generated and annotations were provided, focusing on the biclusters with basal and luminal signatures. These were used to build template maps, i.e., networks in which to embed the ncRNAs and contextually functionalize them based on their interactors. This inference approach is able to assess the influence of ncRNAs at the level of BC subtype. Network topology was considered through the brokerage measure to account for disruptiveness effects induced by the removal of nodes corresponding to ncRNAs. Equivalently, it is shown that ncRNAs can act as brokers of network interactome dynamics, and removing them allows the refinement of subtype-related characteristics previously obtained by gene signatures only. The results of the study elucidate the role of pseudogenes in two major BC subtypes, considering the contextual annotations. Put into a wider perspective, ncRNA brokers may help predictive func-tionalization studies targeted to new disease phenotypes, for instance those linked to the tumor microenvironment or metabolism, or those specifically involving metastasis. Overall, the approach may represent an in silico prioritization strategy toward the systems identification of new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2103
JournalJournal of Clinical Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • breast cancer subtypes
  • non-coding RNAs
  • regulatory networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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