Previously, we obtained gene expression profiles of primary prostate tumors resected from 33 African-American and 36 European-American patients. Analyzing the resulting datasets, we identified gene expression differences between African-American and European-American patients that portray the existence of a distinct tumor microenvironment for these two patient groups. Many of the differently expressed genes were immune-regulatory. Perhaps most significant was the presence of a distinct interferon signature in many of the African-American tumors. As now discovered by us, this signature is almost identical with an interferon-related DNA damage resistance signature (IRDS) that predicts resistance to chemotherapy and radiation. The presence of IDRS in African-American tumors may not only affect the response of them to immune-based therapies but may also make them more resistant to standard therapy including radiation therapy. In addition, IDRS has been linked to the pro-metastatic epithelial to mesenchymal transition of cancer cells and is induced by interactions between fibroblasts and tumor cells. Thus, IDRS may also promote the metastatic process. We completed very recently the analysis of two independent datasets with gene expression profiles from African-American and European-American tumors, which showed that IDRS is significantly more common in tumors from the African-American patients than in tumors from European-American patients in both datasets. To further understand the origin of IDRS, we interrogated the expression profiles of isolated primary human prostate epithelial cells from 14 African-American patients and 13 European-American patients for the presence of IDRS. This analysis led to the finding that IDRS is present in these cultured cells, thus persisting in cancer cells after being removed from the tumor microenvironment, and was observed in 5 out of 14 (36%) isolates from African-American patients versus 2 out of 13 (15%) isolates from European-American patients. We believe that the heightened prevalence of IDRS in cancer cells from African-American patients could be clinically very significant and warrants further investigations into the origin of this signature, and also how this signature can be targeted. To further understand the possible origin of the detected immunobiological differences in tumors of African-American and European-American prostate cancer patients, we have started with the evaluation of blood-based immune cell profiles of African-American and European-American prostate cancer patients and age-matched population-based controls with a focus of subpopulation that have immune-regulatory functions in cancer biology. It is the hypothesis of this project that immune cell subpopulation that have immune-regulatory functions in cancer biology are different in abundance in these two population groups. The presence of an interferon gene signature in prostate tumors suggests a possible involvement of either a viral infection in disease pathology or the reactivation of endogenous retroviruses in the tumor microenvironment. This hypothesis was further supported by our finding that the interferon signature in prostate tumors coincides with a gene signature of retroviral activation. Thus, we started a project exploring the presence of viral infections and the reactivation of endogenous retroviruses in tumors from African-American and European-American patients. In a pilot study, we investigated tumor samples by immunohistochemistry and peripheral blood mononuclear cell isolates by quantitative PCR for expression of a family of endogenous retroviruses, HERV-K. This project is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Feng Wang-Johanning at MD Anderson, who has described HERV-K expression in human breast tumors. Our results show that the HERV-K envelope protein can be detected in prostate tumors by immunohistochemistry, indicating that HERV-K encoded proteins are expressed in these tumors, and that HERV-K gag expression is elevated blood mononuclear cells from prostate cancer patients when compared with a non-cancer control population. These observations are further pursued, investigating both African-American and European-American tissue and blood samples, but they already show that HERV-K is reactivated and expressed in human prostate tumors. The microarray analysis of African-American and European-American prostate tumors identified a two-gene tumor signature that accurately differentiated between African-American and European-American cancer patients. PSPHL is included in this two-gene signature. PSPHL was the most highly up-regulated gene in prostate tumors from African-American patients. Little is known about the function of PSPHL. Interestingly, PSPHL is located on chromosome 7q11.2, a chromosomal region known to have gain of function related to advanced tumor stage in prostate cancer. PSPHL encodes a cysteine-rich small protein of 72 amino acids (predicted size 7.6 kDa). Despite its chromosomal location, there are no studies linking PSPHL expression to cancer progression. In collaboration with Drs. Jun Luo and William Isaacs at Johns Hopkins University, we are examining the genomic region of PSPHL. These studies showed that the PSPHL locus is frequently deleted in European-Americans while present in subjects of African ancestry. The PSPHL gene encodes for two transcripts that are both expressed in prostate cancer cells. To study the function of these transcripts in prostate cancer, we generated isogenic cell line pairs with PSPHL knockdown (shRNA) and PSPHL overexpession (transgene), and co-expression of a luciferase reporter gene, using lentiviral constructs. Cell lines with altered PSPHL expression have been injected into nude mice to study tumor growth and metastasis. These studies are ongoing. Previous data from siRNA experiments showed that PSPHL may influence endoplasmic reticulum function, protein ubiquitination, O-linked N-acetylglucosamine metabolism and the TGF-beta signaling pathway. A two hybrid screen with PSPHL as bait identified, COPS5, as a candidate binding partner of PSPHL. This protein, also known as CSN5 or JAB1, is a subunit of the COP9 signalosome, a highly conserved protein complex that functions as a regulator in multiple signaling pathways. Future research is needed to clarify whether PSPHL protein indeed specifically interacts with COPS5. Lastly, we started studying the metabolome of prostate tumors comparing African-American and European-American tumors. In a pilot, 12 tumors and 12 non-tumor tissues from African-American patients and the same number of tissues from European-American patients were analyzed. A total of 600 metabolites were identified in the tissues using a proprietary technology of the company, Metabolon. The relative abundance of 113 metabolites was found to be different between all tumors combined and all normal surrounding tissues combined. A relative small number of those (n = 16) were found to be different between African-American and European-American tumors, suggesting that there are either only few key differences in the tumor metabolome between these two patient groups or that the sample size of the pilot was too sample. This project is being continued in collaboration with Dr. Arun Sreekumar from Baylor College of Medicine, leading to the novel finding that the tumor metabolome is indicative of certain differences in tumor biology between African-American and European-American patients.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Investigator-Initiated Intramural Research Projects (ZIA)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
National Cancer Institute Division of Basic Sciences
Zip Code
Karunasinghe, Nishi; Ambs, Stefan; Wang, Alice et al. (2018) Influence of lifestyle and genetic variants in the aldo-keto reductase 1C3 rs12529 polymorphism in high-risk prostate cancer detection variability assessed between US and New Zealand cohorts. PLoS One 13:e0199122
Tang, Wei; Wallace, Tiffany A; Yi, Ming et al. (2018) IFNL4-?G Allele Is Associated with an Interferon Signature in Tumors and Survival of African-American Men with Prostate Cancer. Clin Cancer Res 24:5471-5481
Smith, Cheryl J; Minas, Tsion Z; Ambs, Stefan (2018) Analysis of Tumor Biology to Advance Cancer Health Disparity Research. Am J Pathol 188:304-316
Pichardo, Margaret S; Smith, Cheryl J; Dorsey, Tiffany H et al. (2018) Association of Anthropometric Measures with Prostate Cancer among African American Men in the NCI-Maryland Prostate Cancer Case-Control Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 27:936-944
Minas, Tsion Zewdu; Tang, Wei; Smith, Cheryl J et al. (2018) IFNL4-?G is associated with prostate cancer among men at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections. Commun Biol 1:191
Smith, Cheryl Jacobs; Dorsey, Tiffany H; Tang, Wei et al. (2017) Aspirin Use Reduces the Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer and Disease Recurrence in African-American Men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 26:845-853
Yang, Yijun; Jia, Dingwu; Kim, Hogyoung et al. (2016) Dysregulation of miR-212 Promotes Castration Resistance through hnRNPH1-Mediated Regulation of AR and AR-V7: Implications for Racial Disparity of Prostate Cancer. Clin Cancer Res 22:1744-56
Downey, Ronan F; Sullivan, Francis J; Wang-Johanning, Feng et al. (2015) Human endogenous retrovirus K and cancer: Innocent bystander or tumorigenic accomplice? Int J Cancer 137:1249-57
Wang-Johanning, Feng; Li, Ming; Esteva, Francisco J et al. (2014) Human endogenous retrovirus type K antibodies and mRNA as serum biomarkers of early-stage breast cancer. Int J Cancer 134:587-95
Wallace, Tiffany A; Downey, Ronan F; Seufert, Caleb J et al. (2014) Elevated HERV-K mRNA expression in PBMC is associated with a prostate cancer diagnosis particularly in older men and smokers. Carcinogenesis 35:2074-83

Showing the most recent 10 out of 18 publications