Gene set analysis of post-lactational mammary gland involution gene signatures in inflammatory and triple-negative breast cancer

Arvind Bambhroliya, Renae D. Van Wyhe, Swaminathan Kumar, Bisrat G. Debeb, Jay P. Reddy, Steve Van Laere, Randa El-Zein, Arvind Rao, Wendy A. Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Epidemiological studies have found that triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and TN inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) are associated with lower frequency and duration of breast-feeding compared to non-TNBC and non-TN IBC, respectively. Limited breast-feeding could reflect abrupt or premature involution and contribute to a "primed" stroma that is permissive to the migration of cancer cells typical of IBC. We hypothesized that gene expression related to abrupt mammary gland involution after forced weaning may be enriched in the tissues of IBC patients and, if so, provide a potential correlation between limited breast-feeding and the development of aggressive breast cancer.

METHODS: We utilized the Short Time-series Expression Miner (STEM) program to cluster significant signatures from two independent studies that analyzed gene expression at multiple time-points of mouse mammary gland involution. Using 10 significant signatures, we performed gene ontology analysis and gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) on training and validation sets from human breast cancer gene expression data to identify specific genes that are enriched in IBC compared to non-IBC and in TN compared to non-TN in IBC and non-IBC groups.

RESULTS: Examining the combined data, we identified 10 involution gene clusters (Inv1-10) that share time-dependent regulation after forced weaning. Inv5 was the only cluster significantly enriched in IBC in the training and validation set (nominal p-values <0.05) and only by unadjusted p-values (FDR q-values 0.26 and 0.46 respectively). Eight genes in Inv5 are upregulated in both the training and validation sets in IBC. Combining the training and validation sets, both Inv5 and Inv6 have nominal p-values <0.05 and q-values 0.39 and 0.20, respectively. The time course for both clusters includes genes that change within 12 hours after forced weaning.

CONCLUSIONS: Results from this in silico study suggest correlation between molecular events during abrupt involution and aggressive breast cancer. Specifically, candidate genes from Inv5 merit functional investigation regarding the role of limited breast-feeding in IBC development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0192689
Pages (from-to)e0192689
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Animals
  • Breast/metabolism
  • Breast Feeding
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Ontology
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Breast Neoplasms/etiology
  • Lactation
  • Mice
  • Protective Factors
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms/etiology
  • Weaning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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