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Investigating isoform switching in RHBDF2 and its role in neoplastic growth in breast cancer

Published date

November 1, 2022


Background: Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths globally, and its prevalence rates are increasing daily. In the past, studies predicting therapeutic drug targets for cancer therapy focused on the assumption that one gene is responsible for producing one protein. Therefore, there is always an immense need to find promising and novel anti-cancer drug targets. Furthermore, proteases have an integral role in cell proliferation and growth because the proteolysis mechanism is an irreversible process that aids in regulating cellular growth during tumorigenesis. Therefore, an inactive rhomboid protease known as iRhom2 encoded by the gene RHBDF2 can be considered an important target for cancer treatment. Speculatively, previous studies on gene expression analysis of RHBDF2 showed heterogenous behaviour during tumorigenesis. Consistent with this, several studies have reported the antagonistic role of iRhom2 in tumorigenesis, i.e., either they are involved in negative regulation of EGFR ligands via the ERAD pathway or positively regulate EGFR ligands via the EGFR signalling pathway. Additionally, different opinions suggest iRhom2 mediated cleavage of EGFR ligands takes place TACE dependently or TACE independently. However, reconciling these seemingly opposing roles is still unclear and might be attributed to more than one transcript isoform of iRhom2.

Methods: To observe the differences at isoform resolution, the current strategy identified isoform switching in RHBDF2 via differential transcript usage using RNA-seq data during breast cancer initiation and progression. Furthermore, interacting partners were found via correlation and enriched to explain their antagonistic role.

Results: Isoform switching was observed at DCIS, grade 2 and grade 3, from canonical to the cub isoform. Neither EGFR nor ERAD was found enriched. However, pathways leading to TACE-dependent EGFR signalling pathways were more observant, specifically MAPK signalling pathways, GPCR signalling pathways, and toll-like receptor pathways. Nevertheless, it was noteworthy that during CTCs, the cub isoform switches back to the canonical isoform, and the proteasomal degradation pathway and cytoplasmic ribosomal protein pathways were significantly enriched. Therefore, it could be inferred that cub isoform functions during cancer initiation in EGFR signalling. In contrast, during metastasis, where invasion is the primary task, the isoform switches back to the canonical isoform.


Mehar Masood, Madahiah Bint E Masood, Noor Us Subah, Maria Shabbir, Rehan Zafar Paracha, Mehak Rafiq.


Breast cancer; EGFR; ERAD; RHBDF2; TACE; iRhom2.

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