Novel reference genes in colorectal cancer identify a distinct subset of high stage tumors and their associated histologically normal colonic tissues

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



BMC Medical Genetics








And molecular abnormalities in tumor adjacent tissues; Colorectal reference genes; High stage tumors


© 2019 The Author(s). Background: Reference genes are often interchangeably called housekeeping genes due to 1) the essential cellular functions their proteins provide and 2) their constitutive expression across a range of normal and pathophysiological conditions. However, given the proliferative drive of malignant cells, many reference genes such as beta-actin (ACTB) and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate-dehydrogenase (GAPDH) which play critical roles in cell membrane organization and glycolysis, may be dysregulated in tumors versus their corresponding normal controls Methods: Because Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology has several advantages over hybridization-based technologies, such as independent detection and quantitation of transcription levels, greater sensitivity, and increased dynamic range, we evaluated colorectal cancers (CRC) and their histologically normal tissue counterparts by NGS to evaluate the expression of 21 "classical" reference genes used as normalization standards for PCR based methods. Seventy-nine paired tissue samples of CRC and their patient matched healthy colonic tissues were subjected to NGS analysis of their mRNAs. Results: We affirmed that 17 out of 21 classical reference genes had upregulated expression in tumors compared to normal colonic epithelial tissue and dramatically so in some cases. Indeed, tumors were distinguished from normal controls in both unsupervised hierarchical clustering analyses (HCA) and principal component analyses (PCA). We then identified 42 novel potential reference genes with minimal coefficients of variation (CV) across 79 CRC tumor pairs. Though largely consistently expressed across tumors and normal control tissues, a subset of high stage tumors (HSTs) as well as some normal tissue samples (HSNs) located adjacent to these HSTs demonstrated dysregulated expression, thus identifying a subset of tumors with a potentially distinct and aggressive biological profile. Conclusion: While classical CRC reference genes were found to be differentially expressed between tumors and normal controls, novel reference genes, identified via NGS, were more consistently expressed across malignant and normal colonic tissues. Nonetheless, a subset of HST had profound dysregulation of such genes as did many of the histologically normal tissues adjacent to such HSTs, indicating that the HSTs so distinguished may have unique biological properties and that their histologically normal tissues likely harbor a small population of microscopically undetected but metabolically active tumors.

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