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Volume 23, Number 1, 2018

Characteristic miRNA expression signature and random forest survival analysis identify potential cancer-driving miRNAs in a broad range of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma subtypes

Yury O. Nunez Lopez, Berta Victoria, Pawel Golusinski, Wojciech Golusinski, Michal M. Masternak



To characterize the miRNA expression profile in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSSC) accounting for a broad range of cancer subtypes and consequently identify an optimal miRNA signature with prognostic value.


HNSCC is consistently among the most common cancers worldwide. Its mortality rate is about 50% because of the characteristic aggressive behavior of these cancers and the prevalent late diagnosis. The heterogeneity of the disease has hampered the development of robust prognostic tools with broad clinical utility.

Materials and methods

The Cancer Genome Atlas HNSC dataset was used to analyze level 3 miRNA-Seq data from 497 HNSCC patients. Differential expression (DE) analysis was implemented using the limma package and multivariate linear model that adjusted for the confounding effects of age at diagnosis, gender, race, alcohol history, anatomic neoplasm subdivision, pathologic stage, T and N stages, and vital status. Random forest (RF) for survival analysis was implemented using the randomForestSRC package.


A characteristic DE miRNA signature of HNSCC, comprised of 11 upregulated (i.e., miR-196b-5p, miR-1269a, miR-196a-5p, miR-4652-3p, miR-210-3p, miR-1293, miR-615-3p, miR-503-5p, miR-455-3p, miR-205-5p, and miR-21-5p) and 9 downregulated (miR-376c-3p, miR-378c, miR-29c-3p, miR-101-3p, miR-195-5p, miR-299-5p, miR-139-5p, miR-6510-3p, miR-375) miRNAs was identified. An optimal RF survival model was built from seven variables including age at diagnosis, miR-378c, miR-6510-3p, stage N, pathologic stage, gender, and race (listed in order of variable importance).


The joint differential miRNA expression and survival analysis controlling for multiple confounding covariates implemented in this study allowed for the identification of a previously undetected prognostic miRNA signature characteristic of a broad range of HNSCC.

Signature: Rep Pract Oncol Radiother, 2018; 23(1) : 6-20

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