Tissue Specific Gene Expression Patterning and Carcinogenesis

Thumbnail Image
File version
Primary Supervisor

Griffiths, Lyn

Other Supervisors

Morrison, Nigel

File type(s)

Despite significant advances in diagnosis and treatment, breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Australian women. Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in both males and females; after prostate and breast cancer, respectively, and excluding non-melanocytic skin cancer. Both breast cancer and colorectal cancer follow a common progressive course of illness; presenting (at least initially) with benign symptoms that can be treated by ablation (or removal) of the affected area. Cancer progression is associated with breakdown of tissue barriers (such as basement membranes), leading to the spread of cancer cells (via the vasculature or lymphatic system), and the establishment of secondary metastatic disease at green-field sites. Secondary tumours presenting in the lungs, ovaries, liver, bone, or brain are associated with chronic-debilitating symptoms that are difficult to treat, and will result in death. In the case of breast and colon cancer, effective early therapeutic intervention does have a significant impact upon patient survival. Tumour progression in breast and colon carcinomas is characterised by invasion of the surrounding stroma, and the acquisition of stromal characteristics, by previously epithelial cells. This progression is associated with the expression of extracellular proteases (ECPs) and increased motility. The process of mesenchymal transformation that tumour cells undergo is also referred to as the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). In general terms the aim of the study, presented in this thesis, was to investigate gene expression in cancer biology; and to characterise changes in breast cancer and colon cancer, with a focus on those genes, and gene products that may play a role in metastasis, including a family of ECPs, the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). In our laboratory, we have applied methods in microdissection, differential display polymerase chain reaction amplification (DD-PCR), and array hybridisation analysis to identify gene expression patterns in late stage archival formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) breast tumour biopsies that may be indicative of the EMT; or the response to the surrounding stroma/interstitium to the presence of the tumour.' The quality of nucleic acid obtainable from FFPE material presents a considerable challenge for gene expression studies. In order to identify tissue specific gene expression patterns, DD-PCR products, amplified from message obtained following segregation of tumour tissue from surrounding stroma, was hybridised to arrayed cDNA libraries created from stromal tumours, or sarcomas. In this way, 21 known genes, or expressed sequence tags (ESTs), were identified. These included the cytoskeletal element and EMT marker, vimentin, the mammary developmental factor and, signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT)-3, and the cargo selection protein (TIP47). Seventeen genes showed differential expression in either the tumour, or stromal fractions. When applied to transformed breast cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-435 & T47D) DD-array analysis revealed a further 17 genes that were differentially regulated in invasive cells, compared with those displaying a less invasive phenotype. Six of the ESTs identified by DD-PCR array analysis, had no known (or predicted) function. For example, bcaf-2 was identified as the 3'-end of a putative open reading frame (ORF) localised to chromosome 6, while bcaf-10 showed homology with a known ORF. In order to analyse the expression of these bcafs further, a stromal cell culture model, representative of the original osteosarcoma cDNA libraries from which they were obtained, was used. In this model, CD14' (or adherent) peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) treated with macrophage colony stimulating factor (M-CSF), can be allowed to differentiate into macrophage-like (ML) cells; while cells treated with M-CSF, and the receptor activator of NF-KB ligand (RANKL) will differentiate into multinucleate osteoclast-like (OCL) multinucleate giant cells. Uniquely, the stromal EST, bcaf-2 was expressed only by RANKL-treated (or OCL) cells. bcaf-2 and other ESTs, identified by DD-PCR analysis (and recently published) are the subject of on going research in our laboratory. The role of RANKL in mammary gland development and bone metastasis suggested that the identification of a RANKL-regulated stromal factor in breast tissue (bcaf-2) was not an artefact. RANKL is a membrane-bound, member of the tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-a cytokine super family. In order to test the hypothesis that RANKL might act as an inflammatory cytokine to regulate clinically significant stromal gene expression in the breast, we employed quantitative real time PCR analysis to examine the relative levels of selected members of a group of metal dependent ECPs, the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). RNA was extracted from ML cells and OCL cells, as well as RANK positive breast cancer cell lines (T47D, MDA-MB-435 & MCF-7). When the relative levels of protease mRNA were compared we demonstrated a significant (>20- fold) specific increase in collagenase (collagenase 2lMMP-8 and collagenase 3lMMP-13), and the tissue inhibitor of MMP (TIMP)-2 expression in M-CSF and RANKL treated PBMCs cells. When the assay was applied to RANKL treated breast cancer cell lines (MCF-7, T47D & MDAMB- 231), minor (40-fold) but potentially significant alterations in stromal protease gene expression were observed. The changes observed did not however, support the hypothesis that RANKL might act as an inflammatory cytokine to induce significant alterations in ECP expression in breast cancer cells. To investigate the role of RANKL as a driver of EMT in aberrant breast epithelium, total message (mRNNcDNA) from T47D, MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 cells, and message from the same cell lines treated with RANKL were compared by comparative fluorescent cDNA microarray analysis. Of the 1,700 targets available on the arrays, this study identified 160 that were differentially expressed in RANKL treated cells. The results suggest that RANKL may promote rather than suppress a mammary epithelial phenotype in breast cancer. In fact a putative mesenchymal to epithelial transition (MET) was observed following microscopic analysis, and this finding is the subject of on going research in our laboratory. Sporadic structural alterations in certain mitogenic factors represent important early events in cancer progression, while inherited mutations govern familial susceptibility to disease. In colon cancer, a close link exists between Winglessllnt (WNT) signalling, disease pathology, and the expression of MMPs. To examine the relationship between protease expression and structural genetic alterations in this EMT-linked signalling pathway, and others, we applied combined QPCR analysis of MMP expression and PCR-Single Strand Conformation Analysis (SSCA) to 26 colonic tumours, and patient-matched normal colonic mucosa. In this study, significant correlations between the expression of ECPs, and a key mediator of WNT signalling (p-catenin) were identified. While tumours possessing specific functional mutations in K-Ras, were found to group with phenotypic clustering based on protease gene expression. This result may be due to an interruption of normal interactions between RasIRaf signalling and transforming growth factor (TGF) P signalling, via Sma- and Mad- related protein (SMAD) signalling. These results demonstrate that the already identified link between mutations in kinase signalling, and aspects of gross colon tumour morphology (such as dysplasia) may be due to aberrant MMP expression patterning. The final aim of this research was to utilise methods developed in microdissection and specific Q-PCR analysis, to identify whether tumour-stroma differences in MMP gene expression might be used as markers of disease pathology. Total RNA from tumour, and biopsy-matched adjacent stromal tissue were segregated from 35 FFPE archival breast tumour biopsies. Comparison with stroma identified specific associations between TIMP-2 expression in the stroma and lymph node involvement, as well as stromelysin-3 (MMP-I I ) and TIMP-I expression and calcification of the tumour. Furthermore, a significant correlation was identified in the pattern of gelatinase (gelatinase AIMMP-2 & gelatinaseB1MMP-9) expression; while no significant correlation was identified in tumour-stroma MMP gene expression differences, and tumour grade, or hormone receptor status. These results suggest that coordinated changes within the tumour, and proximal stromal tissues (rather than tissue specific changes per se), regulate pathologically significant changes in breast carcinogenesis. In conclusion, this thesis describes the use of novel techniques in specific and global gene expression analysis that permitted examination of stromal gene expression changes in epithelial tumour progression. Microdissection facilitated localisation of expression to particular tissues, while cell culture models provided material with which to optimise and demonstrate the efficacy of techniques used (where tumour material itself was not abundant). Furthermore, we have identified significant and specific correlations between general stromal protease gene expression changes, a putative mammary epithelial differentiation factor (RANKL), alterations in growth factor signalling, and epithelial tumour pathology in the breast and colon. The combination of techniques developed in this study may assist in improvement of categorisation of tumours in clinical pathology. Specifically, the development of novel grading systems that link underlying molecular genetic changes with changes in tumour pathology. These processes may assist to improve diagnosis and provide more effective patient/tumour-specific drug therapies.

Journal Title
Conference Title
Book Title
Thesis Type

Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

Degree Program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Health Sciences

Publisher link
Patent number
Grant identifier(s)
Rights Statement
Rights Statement

The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

Item Access Status


Access the data
Related item(s)

gene expression analysis


breast cancer

colorectal cancer




differential display polymerase chain reaction amplification

array hybridisation analysis

Persistent link to this record