Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Cellular processes of v-Src transformation revealed by gene profiling of primary cells - Implications for human cancer

Bart M Maślikowski1, Benjamin D Néel2, Ying Wu1, Lizhen Wang1, Natalie A Rodrigues3, Germain Gillet2 and Pierre-André Bédard1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, McMaster University, 1280 Main street West, Hamilton, ON, L8S 4K1, Canada

2 Institut de Biologie et Chimie des Protéines, Lyon, France

3 Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON, M4N 3 M5, Canada

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:41  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-41

Published: 12 February 2010



Cell transformation by the Src tyrosine kinase is characterized by extensive changes in gene expression. In this study, we took advantage of several strains of the Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) to characterize the patterns of v-Src-dependent gene expression in two different primary cell types, namely chicken embryo fibroblasts (CEF) and chicken neuroretinal (CNR) cells. We identified a common set of v-Src regulated genes and assessed if their expression is associated with disease-free survival using several independent human tumor data sets.


CEF and CNR cells were infected with transforming, non-transforming, and temperature sensitive mutants of RSV to identify the patterns of gene expression in response to v-Src-transformation. Microarray analysis was used to measure changes in gene expression and to define a common set of v-Src regulated genes (CSR genes) in CEF and CNR cells. A clustering enrichment regime using the CSR genes and two independent breast tumor data-sets was used to identify a 42-gene aggressive tumor gene signature. The aggressive gene signature was tested for its prognostic value by conducting survival analyses on six additional tumor data sets.


The analysis of CEF and CNR cells revealed that cell transformation by v-Src alters the expression of 6% of the protein coding genes of the genome. A common set of 175 v-Src regulated genes (CSR genes) was regulated in both CEF and CNR cells. Within the CSR gene set, a group of 42 v-Src inducible genes was associated with reduced disease- and metastasis-free survival in several independent patient cohorts with breast or lung cancer. Gene classes represented within this group include DNA replication, cell cycle, the DNA damage and stress responses, and blood vessel morphogenesis.


By studying the v-Src-dependent changes in gene expression in two types of primary cells, we identified a set of 42 inducible genes associated with poor prognosis in breast and lung cancer. The identification of these genes provides a set of biomarkers of aggressive tumor behavior and a framework for the study of cancer cells characterized by elevated Src kinase activity.