Investigation of key non-coding and coding genes in cutaneous melanomagenesis
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Cutaneous melanoma is associated with significant morbidity and mortality representing the most significant cutaneous malignancy. As it is known that early diagnosis and treatment are the most efficient approaches to cure cutaneous melanoma, an improved understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of melanoma and exploration of more reliable molecular biomarkers are particularly essential. Two different types of molecular biomarker for melanoma have been investigated in this thesis. microRNAs (miRNAs) are single-stranded RNA molecules of 20-23 nucleotides in length that are found in both animal and plant cells. miRNAs are involved in the RNA interference (RNAi) machinery to regulate gene expression posttranscriptionally. miRNAs have important roles in cancer: by controlling the expression level of their target genes they can affect cell signalling pathways and have been shown to have both prognostic and therapeutic potential. Importantly for melanoma research, reproducible miRNA expression profiles from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues can be obtained that are comparable to those from fresh-frozen samples. The aims of the miRNA project were: first, to identify a melanoma-specific miRNA expression profile; secondly, to investigate roles of some of the melanoma-specific miRNAs identified in melanomagenesis. Using miRNA microarray on FFPE samples, I obtained a melanoma-specific miRNA expression profile. 9 of these differentially expressed miRNAs between benign naevi and melanomas (7 downregulated, 2 upregulated in malignancies) were verified by qRT-PCR and the functions of four of these miRNAs were studied. Ectopic overexpression of miR- 200c and miR-205 in A375 melanoma cells inhibited colony forming ability in methylcellulose, an in vitro surrogate assay for tumourigenicity. Moreover, elevation of miR-200c resulted in increased expression levels of E-cadherin through negative regulation of the zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox 2 (ZEB2) gene. Ectopic overexpression of miR-211 in A375 melanoma cells repressed both colony formation in methylcellulose and migratory ability in matrigel, an in vitro surrogate assay for invasiveness. These findings indicate that miR-200c, miR-205 and miR-211 act as tumour suppressors in melanomagenesis. The second biomarker investigated, mutated BRAF, has been seen in 50-70% of spontaneous cutaneous melanoma. The commonest mutation in melanoma is a glutamic acid for valine substitution at position 600 (V600E). Oncogenic BRAF controls many aspects of melanoma cell biology. The aim of this part of the work was: firstly, to study BRAF V600E mutation status in our melanoma tissue microarray (TMA) panel; secondly, to correlate this mutation to various clinicopathological features and evaluate its prognostic value through statistical analyses. BRAF V600E mutations were seen in 20% of the primary and 69% of the metastatic melanomas, respectively. More BRAF V600E mutations were seen in males relative to females. The mutation was also related to cell pigmentation, but not to age, ulceration or solar elastosis. Melanoma patients with the BRAF V600E mutation relapse earlier than patients without this mutation. However, no significant association between the BRAF V600E mutation and overall survival and melanoma specific survival was found.