Identification of a TLR2-regulated gene signature associated with tumor cell growth in gastric cancer

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Abstract

Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are key regulators of innate immune responses, and their dysregulation is observed in numerous inflammation-associated malignancies, including gastric cancer (GC). However, the identity of specific TLRs and their molecular targets which promote the pathogenesis of human GC is ill-defined. Here, we sought to determine the clinical utility of TLR2 in human GC. TLR2 mRNA and protein expression levels were elevated in > 50% of GC patient tumors across multiple ethnicities. TLR2 was also widely expressed among human GC cell lines, and DNA microarray-based expression profiling demonstrated that the TLR2-induced growth responsiveness of human GC cells corresponded with the up-regulation of six anti-apoptotic (BCL2A1, BCL2,BIRC3, CFLAR, IER3, TNFAIP3) and down-regulation of two tumor suppressor (PDCD4, TP53INP1) genes. The TLR2-mediated regulation of these anti-apoptotic and tumor suppressor genes was also supported by their increased and reduced expression, respectively, in two independent genetic GC mouse models (gp130F/F and Gan) characterized by high tumor TLR2 expression. Notably, enrichment of this TLR2-regulated gene signature also positively correlated with augmented TLR2 expression in human GC tumors, and served as an indicator of poor patient survival. Furthermore, treatment of gp130F/F and cell line-derived xenograft (MKN1) GC mouse models with a humanized anti-TLR2 antibody suppressed gastric tumor growth, which was coincident with alterations to the TLR2-driven gene signature. Collectively, our study demonstrates that in the majority of GC patients, elevated TLR2 expression is associated with a growth-potentiating gene signature which predicts poor patient outcomes, thus supporting TLR2 as a promising therapeutic target in GC.

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