The majority of prostate cancers harbor gene fusions of the 5′-untranslated region of the androgen-regulated transmembrane protease, serine 2 (TMPRSS2) promoter with erythroblast transformation specific (ETS) transcription factor family members. The common v-ets erythroblastosis virus E26 oncogene homolog [avian] (TMPRSS2–ERG) fusion is associated with a more aggressive clinical phenotype, implying the existence of a distinct subclass of prostate cancer defined by this fusion.
We used cDNA-mediated annealing, selection, ligation, and extension to determine the expression profiles of 6144 transcriptionally informative genes in archived biopsy samples from 455 prostate cancer patients in the Swedish Watchful Waiting cohort (1987–1999) and the US-based Physicians Health Study cohort (1983–2003). A gene expression signature for prostate cancers with the TMPRSS2-ERG fusion was determined using partitioning and classification models and used in computational functional analysis. Cell proliferation and TMPRSS2-ERG expression in androgen receptor–negative (NCI-H660) and –positive (VCaP-ERβ) prostate cancer cells after treatment with vehicle or estrogenic compounds were assessed by viability assays and quantitative polymerase chain reaction, respectively. All statistical tests were two-sided.
We identified an 87-gene expression signature that distinguishes TMPRSS2-ERG fusion prostate cancer as a discrete molecular entity (area under the curve = 0.80, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.792 to 0.81; P<.001). Computational analysis suggested that this fusion signature was associated with estrogen receptor (ER) signaling. Viability of NCI-H660 cells decreased after treatment with estrogen (viability normalized to day 0, estrogen vs vehicle at day 8, mean = 2.04 vs 3.40, difference = 1.36, 95% CI = 1.12 to 1.62) or ERβ agonist (ERβ agonist vs vehicle at day 8, mean = 1.86 vs 3.40, difference = 1.54, 95% CI = 1.39 to 1.69) but increased after ERα agonist treatment (ERα agonist vs vehicle at day 8, mean = 4.36 vs 3.40, difference = 0.96, 95% CI = 0.68 to 1.23). Similarly, expression of TMPRSS2-ERG decreased after ERβ agonist treatment (fold change over internal control, ERβ agonist vs vehicle at 24 hours, NCI H660, mean = 0.57-fold vs 1.0-fold, difference = 0.43, 95% CI = 0.29-fold to 0.57-fold) and increased after ERα agonist treatment (ERα agonist vs vehicle at 24 hours, mean = 5.63-fold vs 1.0-fold, difference = 4.63-fold, 95% CI = 4.34-fold to 4.92-fold).
TMPRSS2-ERG fusion prostate cancer is a distinct molecular subclass. TMPRSS2-ERG expression is regulated by a novel ER-dependent mechanism.