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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

An expression meta-analysis of predicted microRNA targets identifies a diagnostic signature for lung cancer

Yu Liang

Author Affiliations

Division of Molecular Cell Biology-Assay R&D, Applied Biosystems, 850 Lincoln Centre Drive, Foster City, CA 94404, USA

BMC Medical Genomics 2008, 1:61  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-1-61

Published: 16 December 2008



Patients diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma (AD) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), two major histologic subtypes of lung cancer, currently receive similar standard treatments, but resistance to adjuvant chemotherapy is prevalent. Identification of differentially expressed genes marking AD and SCC may prove to be of diagnostic value and help unravel molecular basis of their histogenesis and biologies, and deliver more effective and specific systemic therapy.


MiRNA target genes were predicted by union of miRanda, TargetScan, and PicTar, followed by screening for matched gene symbols in NCBI human sequences and Gene Ontology (GO) terms using the PANTHER database that was also used for analyzing the significance of biological processes and pathways within each ontology term. Microarray data were extracted from Gene Expression Omnibus repository, and tumor subtype prediction by gene expression used Prediction Analysis of Microarrays.


Computationally predicted target genes of three microRNAs, miR-34b/34c/449, that were detected in human lung, testis, and fallopian tubes but not in other normal tissues, were filtered by representation of GO terms and their ability to classify lung cancer subtypes, followed by a meta-analysis of microarray data to classify AD and SCC. Expression of a minimal set of 17 predicted miR-34b/34c/449 target genes derived from the developmental process GO category was identified from a training set to classify 41 AD and 17 SCC, and correctly predicted in average 87% of 354 AD and 82% of 282 SCC specimens from total 9 independent published datasets. The accuracy of prediction still remains comparable when classifying 103 AD and 79 SCC samples from another 4 published datasets that have only 14 to 16 of the 17 genes available for prediction (84% and 85% for AD and SCC, respectively). Expression of this signature in two published datasets of epithelial cells obtained at bronchoscopy from cigarette smokers, if combined with cytopathology of the cells, yielded 89–90% sensitivity of lung cancer detection and 87–90% negative predictive value to non-cancer patients.


This study focuses on predicted targets of three lung-enriched miRNAs, compares their expression patterns in lung cancer by their GO terms, and identifies a minimal set of genes differentially expressed in AD and SCC, followed by validating this gene signature in multiple published datasets. Expression of this gene signature in bronchial epithelial cells of cigarette smokers also has a great sensitivity to predict the patients having lung cancer if combined with cytopathology of the cells.