A Protective Role for Androgen Receptor in Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma Based on Mining TCGA Data

Hongjuan Zhao, John T Leppert, Donna M Peehl
PloS One 2016, 11 (1): e0146505
Androgen receptor (AR) is expressed in normal murine and human kidneys of both genders, but its physiologic role is uncertain. Several studies showed loss of AR in renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in conjunction with increasing clinical stage and pathological grade, but others found that higher AR expression correlated with worse outcomes. Limited functional studies with renal cell lines suggested tumor-promoting activity of AR. In this study, we queried transcriptomic, proteomic, epigenetic and survival data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) to evaluate AR expression and its association with overall survival in three subtypes of RCC (clear cell [ccRCC], papillary [pRCC], and chromophobe [chRCC]). We found that although there was no significant difference in AR mRNA expression in ccRCC of males vs. females, AR protein expression in ccRCC was significantly higher in male compared to female patients. More importantly, higher expression of AR at both transcript and protein levels was associated with improved overall survival in both genders with ccRCC, but did not predict survival of either gender with pRCC or chRCC. Genes whose transcript levels were associated with AR mRNA levels significantly overlapped between ccRCC and pRCC, but not with chRCC, suggesting a similar transcriptional program mediated by AR in ccRCC and pRCC. Ingenuity pathway analysis also identified overlapping pathways and upstream regulators enriched in AR-associated genes in ccRCC and pRCC. Hypermethylation of CpG sites located in the promoter and first exon of AR was associated with loss of AR expression and poor overall survival. Our findings support a tumor suppressor role for AR in both genders that might be exploited to decrease the incidence or progression of ccRCC.

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